The No. 17 UCSB women’s water polo team began a six-game home stand last Friday, four of which were part of the 2012 UCSB Winter Invite. After dropping their first game of the weekend to No. 6 Arizona State, the Gauchos rattled off four straight victories against Concordia, Sonoma State, No. 19 Cal State Northridge and CSU Bakersfield before losing their final match of the weekend to Indiana. Santa Barbara will end January with a 7-5 overall record.

“We are very inexperienced,” Head Coach Cathy Neushul said. “We lost 87 percent of our goal production last year so it was really important that we came out early and challenged ourselves, and we did that.”

The weekend’s closing game against Indiana could hardly have been closer. Halftime saw Indiana up 2-1 after matching the Gauchos’ lone goal in the first period and then blanking them in the second to take the slight lead. The second half opened with a 2-2 third period, but the Gauchos outmuscled Indiana 3-2 in the fourth to force overtime. However, the comeback fell short. Indiana’s defense kept UCSB off the board throughout both overtime periods while the offense added two goals to give the Hoosiers an 8-6 win.

“We made some important defensive lapses near the end of the game,” Neushul said. “That’s just due to inexperience.”

Sunday’s earlier game was far from as closely contested. From the beginning, it was clear that the Gauchos were more than a match for Bakersfield. By halftime, UCSB already sported a 7-2 lead, and when play resumed they did not let up, cruising to an 11-4 victory. Four Gauchos recorded multi-goal games, including freshman Lauren Martin and junior Bryce Winton, who lead their teammates with three goals apiece.

Saturday was perhaps the best day of the weekend for the Gauchos, both offensively and defensively. The Gauchos began the day with a 10-2 dismantling of Sonoma State. The UCSB defense kept Sonoma off the board until the final three minutes of the first half, and Winton stole the show offensively, accounting for five of the Gauchos’ 10 goals.

“[Bryce] is a pure shooter,” Neushul said. “She’s very offensive-minded. If we need a goal, we call a play for her.”

The second game of the day proved to be much tougher for Santa Barbara. UCSB did not really put the game away until the third quarter, when it outscored Northridge 3-1 to bring their lead to four goals. However, the game was really won on the defensive side of the ball by junior goalkeeper Ruth Milne, who recorded a career-high 22 saves to keep the game out of Northridge’s reach and allow the Gauchos to get their second win 9-6.

“We knew that [Milne] would be the stalwart of our defense,” Neushul said. “We do a very good job of funneling shots to her because she knows where the ball will go.”

Friday saw UCSB play its worst game of the season in the weekend’s opening match against Arizona State. The Gauchos started slow as the Sun Devils jumped out to a 10-3 lead through three quarters. In the final quarter of the match, Santa Barbara shook off the fog to notch four goals. Unfortunately, it was not enough to close the gap as UCSB suffered a 12-7 defeat in their first home game of the season.

The Gauchos came out with a chip on their shoulder for the second match of the double-header against Concordia. UCSB started off the match with a 3-0 first quarter and never relented on their way to an 8-4 win. Seven different Gauchos got in on the scoring action, including Martin, who led her teammates with two goals.

The Gauchos are now off until Feb. 11, when they will travel to San Diego for the two-day Triton Invitational.