With one of the best seasons in the history of UCSB women’s swimming and diving already wrapped up, a pair of sophomore swimmers are geared to step onto center stage next season. Sophia Yamauchi and Andrea Ward broke out as young stars this year, leading the way for the Gauchos throughout the regular season, Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Championships and into the NCAA Championships. Teammates in the pool, the pair are becoming fast friends on land.

“I think Sophia and I have been becoming closer and closer friends as the year goes on,” Ward said. “We both like to set really high goals for ourselves and we like to cheer each other on, and none of us ever get jealous of each other’s achievement. We’re like sisters basically.”

Both Yamauchi and Ward entered the season with higher expectations set for themselves after coming off successful freshman years. Just sophomores, each swimmer has already made a significant impact on the Gaucho program.

“They’re both very high quality athletes and students, and when you meet them, they’re just high quality people,” Head Coach Gregg Wilson said. “Our team, the university and our community has benefited significantly from these swimmers.”

Yamauchi and Ward found their way to UCSB under very similar circumstances, with coach Wilson recognizing the potential in each high school athlete.

“They came in as good swimmers but not at a national level, more regionally and locally known,” Wilson said. “I recruited them because I saw a lot of potential and I was familiar with their coaches and program.”

Ward seized the opportunity to swim collegiately and emerged as one of the best backstroke swimmers in the MPSF. In her last four dual meets of the season, Ward won six individual events — four of them in backstroke competitions.

A two-time MPSF Athlete of the Week, Ward carried her outstanding performance from the regular season into postseason action, winning Athlete of the Year after setting meet records in the 100- (52.98) and 200-yard butterfly (1:59.16) and also winning the 500-yard freestyle (4:50.41) at the MPSF Championships. She also led three UCSB relay teams to first-place finishes.

“Last season I was a freshman. I didn’t have any deep expectations,” Ward said. “I improved a lot over the first year — I came in and had a goal for myself: to make the NCAA and then possibly get more school records.”

Ward’s counterpart Yamauchi dominated in breaststroke competitions throughout the season, as the Santa Rosa native posted an undefeated record in every single individual event she competed in. Yamauchi participated in a total of seven different events, an impressive achievement considering the different strokes and distances she prepared for.

“I went into this season with the goal of going undefeated in my dueling season and duel events,” Yamauchi said. “Every season my coach has us do goal sheets and they have a list of questions that they put on there. … I just thought that would be a good goal to set for myself.”

In postseason play, Yamauchi was named to the All-MPSF First Team for her performance in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke, 200- and 400-yard medley relay and 200-yard IM. Her performance in the MPSF Championships was good enough to qualify her for the NCAA Championships in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke and 200-yard IM, alongside Ward, who qualified for the 100- and 200-yard butterfly.

During the three-day event, held March 15-17, Ward finished 29th in the 100-yard butterf ly and 40th in the 200- yard butterf ly. Yamauchi had her best finish in the 100-yard breaststroke, coming in 35th place while finishing 44th and 45th in the 200-yard IM and 200- yard breaststroke to finish the tournament for the Gauchos.

“It was great representing UCSB; it was just Andrea and I, but it was a great experience for the both of us,” Yamauchi said. “I’m really glad I got to go and experience the whole thing. If I get the opportunity to go next year I feel like I can go in better prepared and with a better mindset.”

Entering next season as upperclassmen, the two swimmers will look to replace and build upon the leadership provided by last season’s senior class while implementing their own style of leadership in the team.

“Having a leadership role for the UCSB swim team is something that I’ve always wanted,” Ward said. “Sophie and I want our team to go far and we’ve both talked about how we see an infinite amount of potential in our teammates.”

While it is hard to grasp how much this sophomore duo achieved in one season, it may be even more difficult to estimate how much more they could accomplish in the next two years.