The No. 17 Santa Barbara women’s water polo team returned from Hawaii this week having brought back some added momentum for April.
After dropping matches to No. 8 Hawaii and No. 2 Stanford, UCSB regained traction with wins over Sonoma State and No. 15 UCSD at a weekend tournament hosted by Big West opponent University of Hawaii.
“We definitely left there on a high note,” Head Coach Cathy Neushul said. “It was a great trip all the way around.”
The road trip did not start smoothly though, as the team accrued losses Friday and Saturday against offensive heavyweights Hawaii (10-7) and Stanford (12-3). Hawaii’s attack featured a strong group of seniors led by attacker Monika Eggens.
Eggens, who previously trained with the Canadian National Team, had a field day against the Gauchos with six goals in the first three quarters. Santa Barbara managed to retaliate in the final period with a 4-0 run; however, UCSB was unable to close upon a seven-point margin.
“We knew those girls were really good,” Neushul said. “It’s hard to have a one-man show in Hawaii, but [Eggens] kind of was.”
Saturday’s showdown against Stanford provided some intriguing context as the match pitted UCSB coach Neushul against her daughter, Kiley. A sophomore driver for Stanford, Kiley was crowned the nation’s top collegiate women’s water polo player in 2012 as a freshman.
In spite of the occurrence however, Coach Neushul was not perturbed by the circumstances.
“I don’t even really notice that, and I don’t think she does either,” Neushul said. “You coach hundreds and hundreds of games, and I don’t really think of her as my daughter when I’m playing her.”
Still, UCSB struggled to score against a Stanford squad that featured the nation’s top collegiate player and multiple U.S. Olympians, and the Gauchos were limited to three total goals. Despite the outcome, Neushul was pleased with the team’s effort.
“It was actually a really good defensive battle,” Neushul said. “Some good things happened in that game that we used to build on the weekend.”
The Gauchos would finally get over the hump Sunday with a strong 11-7 win over Sonoma State and a 12-9 victory against UC San Diego.
Santa Barbara cranked out the offense early against Sonoma with a 7-4 lead in the first half and held the Seawolves in check with four more goals in the final periods. Freshman goalkeeper Mackenzie Brokaw had a game-high eight saves, and the UCSB offense was evenly distributed between five players tallying two goals each.
“[Brokaw] got a lot of experience and she’s coming along [really well],” Neushul said. “The gap between the defense and offensive end has really started to narrow.”
Against their conference rival, the Tritons, the Gauchos delivered again on the offensive end, compiling a 7-4 lead at the half. Freshmen utility Jessie Porter and Samantha Murphy led UCSB with three goals each to bolster Santa Barbara to a 12-9 finish.
The Gauchos exit March having won seven of 10 games with a 1-2 record against Big West opponents. Santa Barbara stands at 18-10 overall but the club looks to capitalize on its conference record with four upcoming matches against Big West opponents.
“Again, the record doesn’t matter so much as how you are seeded and end up in the conference tournament,” Neushul said. “As it stands right now, we’re all in this [complicated] tie situation.”
UC Santa Barbara is next scheduled to face San Diego State at home Saturday, April 6.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.