The No. 16 UCSB women’s water polo team will culminate its season with the Big West Championship this weekend. The Big West Tournament will be a three-day affair, with the top placing team guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Championship.
“Our goal at this point is to place as high as we possibly can in this tournament,” Head Coach Cathy Neushul said. “We have a really good matchup, we know what our strengths and weaknesses are now and we know how to function as a team.”
As the sixth seed in the tournament, the Gauchos will face the third seed in No. 8 San Diego State in their first matchup Friday. UCSB is currently 19-13 on the year and 2-5 in Big West play while San Diego State is 2-9 overall and 5-2 in conference.
Nevertheless, Santa Barbara has a 1-1 record against the Aztecs this season, having upset them most recently at UCSB’s Senior Day.
Given its last performance against SDSU, Santa Barbara figures to match up well in its first match of the tourney.
“I think that’s the best matchup for us out of the Big West,” Neushul said. “We had a game plan for them, and it worked really well the second time around; hopefully we can just execute and be ready for some changes that we might see.”
The San Diego State squad will feature the Big West’s fifth-leading goal scorer, senior utility Amber Pezzolla, and the conference’s second-leading saves leader, freshman goalkeeper Rachel Mitchell. Of Pezzolla’s 67 goals, five have come against UCSB, though she was limited to just one score in the last contest.
“We’re concentrating all our efforts here on San Diego State,” Neushul said. “We have a lot of game footage on them and we have to be ready for multiple things.”
While Santa Barbara has a 2-5 record against Big West teams this year, the team maintains a strong confidence in its ability to perform in the tournament.
“We have the talent and we have the drive and the preparation to achieve this year,” Neushul said. “I think our players believe they can win and that’s more than half the battle.”
The outcome of this first matchup will determine whether UCSB will play either the No. 2 seed UC Irvine or the No. 7 seed UC Davis in its next game Saturday. With 32 games under their belt, the Gauchos will enter the tournament as a seasoned group.
“I think we’ve had a lot of preparation for this tournament and we’re at a good place,” Neushul said. “We are optimistic about our matchup and we’re really concentrating all our efforts on this first game.”
UCSB is set to play its first match of the Big West Tournament against San Diego State Friday in Irvine.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of April 25th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.