The #15 UCSB women’s water polo team saw its seven-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, falling to CSU Northridge 8-7. After the battle between the Big West’s top two teams, the Gauchos’ record moves to 19-9 and 2-1 in the conference. Cal Baptist was the team’s second opponent of the day in a match that ended in a 5-0 Lancers win after UCSB was forced to forfeit the match.
[media-credit id=20238 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]The opening game of the day against the Matadors was closely fought from the start. With 3:44 left to go in the first quarter, senior utility Kathryn Nelson scored the first of her eventual four goals of the day, bringing her team-leading total up to 52, tying the game at one apiece. CSUN responded quickly but senior utility Claire Buchanan then notched two goals, extending her scoring streak to eight games to put the Gauchos up 3-2 with about a minute left to play. However, UCSB’s defense could not hold Northridge back, and the second quarter opened with the game tied at three.
“We know we’re better than them in a regulation pool, but they have a really small pool and it suits their lineup,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “In a small pool we can’t really take advantage of our counter attack, which is one of our strengths. They have a lot of slow players, but their also really good shooters.”
The momentum from that goal carried over into the second quarter for the Matadors, as they held UCSB scoreless and took a two-goal lead, which they extended further in the third quarter as they outscored Santa Barbara 2-1. In the final quarter of the game, sophomore utility Bryce Winton scored three goals in seven minutes to lead a furious attempt at a comeback. But the Gauchos fell just short of their eighth consecutive win as Northridge dealt them an 8-7 defeat.
In the game against Cal Baptist, once again the Gauchos fell behind early. The teams then traded two goals each, including one from Buchanan — who will enter the final weekend of the regular season on a nine-game scoring streak — and the quarter ended with the Lancers up by one.
Senior utility Christie Clark opened the second quarter with her first goal of the day to tie the game at three, but the Lancers quickly regained the lead. Each team would record one more goal in the quarter and the first half came to a close with the Gauchos down 5-4.
“I think they just came out and played very physical, and in a small pool like that it was hard to control it,” Clark said. “It was still early in the game so we didn’t have that losing mentality.”
The Lancers began the second half by taking a two-goal lead over UCSB, which lasted until the 4:50 mark of the third quarter, when sophomore attacker Shelby Haroldson scored to make it a one goal game once again. The Lancers would briefly regain their two-goal lead, but Nelson scored her second goal of the game to start a run of four unanswered goals that lasted into the fourth quarter, giving UCSB a two-goal lead of its own. At this point all UCSB had to do was hold the Lancers off, but with just over a minute left in the game the Lancers would rally to tie it at nine.
“[Cal Baptist’s comeback] was probably just luck,” Nelson said. “They probably got a lucky shot in and our shots weren’t going in, because we were still playing great defense.”
Though Cal Baptist was officially credited with a 5-0 win in the match, the game never actually got a chance to end. With 29 seconds left to play, Wigo was given a red card and UCSB was forced to forfeit the game.
“It’s too early to tell [how the Big West will play out],” Wigo said. “It looks like a lot of teams are beating each other. We definitely have to go down and at least get a split next weekend.”
Though Santa Barbara went 0-2 on Saturday, there were several bright spots, too. In addition to Winton’s hat trick and Buchanan’s team-leading scoring streak, the Gauchos continued to play strong defense. They have now limited their opponents to nine goals or fewer in ten consecutive games, and sophomore goalkeeper Ruth Milne made 17 saves for the day to keep the games close.
“[Defense] is very important,” Wigo said. “We just need to keep doing the things that we’re doing right now. We want to keep teams under seven goals and hopefully better than that.”
The Gauchos next face off with Long Beach State on Saturday before traveling to Irvine on Sunday for their final game of the regular season. Both games are scheduled to begin at noon.