After winning four consecutive games, the UCSB women’s water polo team looks to keep its hot streak alive in its first Big West Conference action against Long Beach State and UC Irvine. The match with the 49ers is especially important, as the rivalry between the two schools has become very heated over the past few years.
“Long Beach is always out for blood against us,” junior utility Katie Kepner said. “It’s going to be a battle.”
#12 Santa Barbara (13-8 overall) does appear to have the edge in the game on paper. The Gauchos have a striking home pool advantage with a record of 7-1. In addition, the Gauchos have defeated the 49ers (8-14 overall) the last three times the teams have met.
UCSB’s recent success has come off the arm of senior center Lizzie Rouleau. The veteran leads the Gauchos with 24 goals on the season, with 10 of them coming in her last four competitions. Junior utility Christie Clark is right behind her with 22 goals on the season and recently notched her 100th career goal last Saturday against Irvine. However, the offense is not the only strength of Santa Barbara’s game.
The defense has had an impressive year as well with junior utility Kathryn Nelson leading the way with 30 steals to go along with eight blocks. Freshman attacker Shelby Haroldson is second on the team with 23 steals. However, the team MVP might actually be freshman keeper Ruth Milne.
Milne has had an incredible year in only her freshman campaign. The keeper has 188 saves on the season to average 10.7 per game. She posted a season high 15 saves in a win against Davis.
After taking on Long Beach State, UCSB will welcome back UC Irvine (9-11 overall) to its pool on Saturday for their fourth meeting of the year.
The Anteaters were victorious in their first game, winning an overtime nail-biting thriller. However, in the next game Santa Barbara dismantled the Irvine defense to post an 11-3 victory in what the team believed was its best game of the year.
Their most recent game came in the UCSB mini-Invitational. Tied at 4-4 heading into the fourth quarter, the Gauchos outscored the Anteaters 3-1 in the final quarter for a 7-5 victory. With its past success, UCSB is confident coming into the fourth match.
“After winning the last two games, we definitely hold the mental edge,” Kepner said.
With Big West play beginning, every single game is crucial for seeding in the Conference tournament.
UCSB challenges Long Beach State today and UC Irvine tomorrow. In both games the ball will drop at noon.