The 12th-ranked UCSB women’s water polo took ninth in the 2011 Triton Invitational, a two-day tournament in La Jolla. The weekend saw the Gauchos fall early to Long Beach State 5-2, but then come back strong with 12-3, 9-2 and 12-7 wins over #20 Marist, CSU East Bay and tournament host #17 UC San Diego, respectively, to improve to 9-4 on the season. Third-ranked UCLA took the overall Invitational.

[media-credit id=20125 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]For UCSB, the weekend was all about defense. The Gauchos held to their opponents to a total of just 17 points while scoring 35 over the span of the tournament.

“We have to be able to play defense to win,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “Our defense is definitely better than our offense right now. But it all came together in that last game.”

In its first game, a 5-2 loss to unranked and then-winless Long Beach State, the defense was the only thing that kept the Gauchos in the game. Senior utility Christie Clark scored the first of her eventual eight goals in the tournament, but the team failed to get going offensively, going scoreless in the second half.

“They’re unranked but they’re a dangerous team,” Wigo said. “They’re well-coached. We knew they were a lot better than being unranked, but I’m sure our team underestimated them.”

After the loss, the Gauchos snapped out of their funk, and in the next game against Marist, eight players got in on the scoring, including Clark, who had three goals. UCSB held a 7-0 lead by the end of the first half backed by a defense anchored by senior reserve goalie Chelsea Carrillo, who notched 12 saves, a tournament high.

“That was a pretty easy game,” Wigo said. “[We sat some of the starters because] we just wanted to try to get as many players playing time as possible. [Carrillo] is a very solid reserve goalkeeper. Two years ago she was starting for us so she has experience at that level.”

The next day, UCSB continued what it had begun against Marist. Later, East Bay was held scoreless in both the second and fourth quarters, and senior utility Kathryn Nelson scored four goals. The defense, which held East Bay to just two goals overall, was once again led by an extraordinary goalkeeping effort, this time on the part of sophomore goalie Ruth Milne, who recorded 11 saves.

That win set the Gauchos up to face off with San Diego for 9th place in the tournament. UCSB raced to a 5-1 lead in the first quarter after goals from four different players, including two from senior utility Claire Buchanan. Buchanan registered three in the game overall. UCSB was outscored in the second quarter, but the Gaucho defense was giving another solid effort behind Milne, who would tally 11 more saves to bring her tournament total up to 28. At the half Santa Barbara held a 6-3 lead. In the second half the offense got back on track behind the leadership of Nelson, who scored two of her three goals after the break, and Clark, who scored her seventh and eighth goals of the tournament.

“It’s definitely nice to have [Clark] out there,” Wigo said. “She’s a really good asset to have. She has a great shot and knows how to get open. She’s probably the player most opponents key on as well, so for her to score is even more impressive.”

The Gauchos have another tournament on the calendar in two weeks. The two-day UC Irvine Invitational in Irvine will begin on Feb. 26.