A fresh start, a clean slate, a blank canvas. In recent years, that’s all the UCSB women’s water polo team had on its agenda as they prepared for the start of a new season. But after last season’s incredible finish that culminated in a second place finish in the Big West Tournament, the mindset going into this Saturday’s season opener at Campus Pool is a little different.

“Our goal is to win the Big West, and I think we have a real good shot,” junior attacker Katie Kepner said.

The team’s renewed confidence would never have arisen were it not for their miraculous turnaround in 2009. Coming off a disappointing 2008 season that saw UCSB win only a handful of games, no one could have predicted a winning season for the Gauchos in 2009.

That all changed when Wolf Wigo stepped in as head coach to turn the program around. Last year’s team posted a 17-12 overall record, an 11-game improvement from the year before, and upset Northridge on their way to the Big West Championship game where they lost to Irvine in a nail-biter.

Senior Captain Lizzie Rouleau is one of many that believe the significant turnaround is owed in large part to Wigo and his staff.
“Last year was a big improvement for our program because we finally got the coaching staff we have been waiting for,” Rouleau said.
With a coaching staff to complement their talent base, the Gauchos believe that they are now a more respected team — one that can harness the momentum of 2009 to commence the 2010 campaign firing on all cylinders.

Santa Barbara’s first test will come in their season opener against Bakersfield in the Gaucho Mini Tournament. The Roadrunners have won the last two pairings between these teams, leaving the Gauchos starving for a win.

“We definitely want a little revenge,” Wigo said.

This time around, UCSB has one thing Bakersfield does not: home pool advantage. Due to the recent weather plaguing Santa Barbara, it is unlikely the games will draw a large crowd, but being at home still provides an advantage in not having to travel.

After the game with Bakersfield, the Gauchos will then enjoy a four-hour layover between games, which they will use to rest up for Pomona-Pitzer. Although they are unranked, Pomona-Pitzer is a tough team that is not to be taken lightly if UCSB wants to start the season on the right side of the win column.

“The goal for the weekend is two wins,” Wigo said.

Rouleau seconds her coach’s goal but also wants to see where Santa Barbara stands, or treads, as a team after several weeks of demanding practice. She will likely receive her answer in the first game against Bakersfield.

The 11 a.m. matchup will require Santa Barbara’s best effort, but no one is more confident in their ability to win than Kepner.

“The Gauchos are going to be like Wile E. Coyote this weekend, except we’re going to catch the Roadrunners,” Kepner said.