After finishing ninth at the UCSD Triton Invitational in San Diego, the #15 UCSB women’s water polo team took 12th place at the UC Irvine Invitational last weekend. The Gauchos split the first day, losing 10-6 to #4 UC Berkeley and knocking off Cal State Northridge 11-8, before suffering losses to #11 San Jose State and #10 Irvine on the second day.

[media-credit name=”Jon Kopecky” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit] “This is the premier tournament of the year,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “You have pretty much the top 16 teams in the country, so every game is going to be competitive. Every team we’re playing is going to be ranked higher than us.”

In their first match against Berkeley, the Gauchos were down 4-3 in the third quarter, but the Golden Bears scored three in the period on their way to a 10-6 victory. Sophomore goalie Ruth Milne had 14 saves in the effort.

In the second game of the day against CSU Northridge, Claire Buchanan and Kathryn Nelson once again led the offense with two goals apiece, and seven other Gauchos got in on the scoring to give UCSB an 11-8 win.

“Cal is a much better team than Northridge,” Wigo said. “We were in the game the whole way. That was a strong performance for us. We had two good performances on Saturday.”

On Sunday against San Jose State, UCSB was tied 3-3 after the first quarter, but the Spartans outscored the Gauchos 8-4 in the next two quarters, pulling out an 11-9 win. In the loss, Buchanan and senior utility Christie Clark each had three goals to lead the offense. Clark was named Big West Co-Player of the Week this week after posting nine total goals in Irvine.

In UCSB’s final game of the tournament, the host and nationally ranked #10 Anteaters broke out to an early 3-1 lead after the first quarter and held the Gauchos scoreless through the third. UCSB outscored Irvine 3-1 in the final eight minutes, but the Anteaters escaped with the 8-6 victory.

“[Our performance] is acceptable,” Wigo said. “I was hoping we could have gotten one or two wins on the second day. We’re still playing teams that were ranked ahead of us, but I thought we could have done better. I thought we played really well the first day.”

With the NCAA Tournament over two months away, this weekend prove to be a good preview of the competition the team would face, should it go that far.

“It’s going to be hard [to make the tournament],” Wigo said. “The first step is we have to win the Big West Conference. All six teams are going be ranked right next to each other on the national poll.”

The Gauchos will head to Thousand Oaks on March 4, where they will play three games in the Cal Lutheran Mini Tournament.