After sweeping its first round of competition Friday and winning its first four games of the UCSB Winter Invite, the No. 15 UC Santa Barbara women’s water polo team closed this weekend with a 5-2 record at Campus Pool.

The Gauchos propelled themselves to a 7-2 record overall, with matches played against Azusa Pacific, Concordia, No. 18 California Baptist, Sonoma State, No. 5 Arizona State, No. 3 UCLA and Pomona-Pitzer.

“I doubt any colleges play as many games as we have,” UCSB Head Coach Cathy Neushul said. “My philosophy for the program is to play a lot and play early.”

Indeed, UCSB played the most matches of any team in the meet with seven. However, the Gauchos’ grueling schedule didn’t faze them early on. The squad compiled four consecutive wins against Azusa Pacific (11-3), Concordia (11-7), California Baptist (10-5) and Sonoma State (10-5) before dropping its first two losses of the season to powerhouses Arizona State and UCLA by scores of 7-10 and 2-10, respectively.

The Gauchos played a compelling match against a Sun Devils team Saturday that featured All-American attacker Alicia Brightwell and 2008 Olympian attacker Ao Gao. Down 5-7 at the half, Santa Barbara built momentum in the third and brought the match to a 7-8 tally, but a last second goal by ASU at the period’s close conclusively pulled the Sun Devils out of reach.

UCSB squared off against UCLA Sunday morning, but the Gauchos were unable to keep up with the potent Bruin attack and struggled to convert on scoring opportunities. Down 1-5 at halftime, UCSB only managed to score one more goal in the final period, though Neushul found merit in the team’s efforts despite the outcome.

“I was really happy with the way we played, even though the score was not indicative of that,” Neushul said. “The mistakes that we made are things that we can improve on.”

The Gauchos wrapped up their final match of the Winter Invite with a strong 15-7 performance against Pomona Pitzer Sunday evening. Freshman utility Samantha Murphy accounted for five goals and freshman goalkeeper Mackenzie Brokaw produced 14 saves in an assertive finish for Santa Barbara.

“We worked as a group,” Brokaw said. “Towards the end, we all came together and ended up having a great win.”

The Gauchos will make their next appearance on the road at the University of Redlands Feb. 8.


A version of this article appeared on page 5 of January 28th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.