After going 2-2 in the UCSD Triton Invite, the No. 18 UCSB women’s water polo team will look to ride its momentum into the UCI Invite this weekend when it will play No. 4 California.
The Gauchos enter their third tournament of the season with a 4-7 overall record, while the Bears come in at 11-1 overall.
“We’re trying to figure each other out right now and we’re doing really well working hard in the pool,” sophomore attacker Bryn Hudson said. “It’s nice being able to play together, I think this tournament’s going to be really good for us.”
Santa Barbara got off to a disappointing start after opening its season 2-5 at home in the UCSB Winter Invite, but has maintained a high national ranking due to the extremely tough opponents it has faced. With a young squad composed of many freshmen and sophomores, the Gauchos have had few chances to play together thus far, but they continue to grow with every game.
“The first tournament helped us to kind of see where we’re at and we figured out a lot of things we need to work on,” sophomore utility Samantha Murphy said. “In the San Diego tournament it was really good to work on a lot of new things offensively and defensively. I think we improved a lot and we’re looking to improve more this weekend.”
The next opponent for the Gauchos is Cal, a team that it faced just three weekends ago at home and was defeated, 14-4. In that game, UCSB fell behind early and never had much of a chance to catch up, already trailing 8-1 by halftime.
“Cal is a really strong team. All of their players are really strong, and they capitalize on any of our little mistakes,” Murphy said. “When we play them again it’ll be a much different game. We watched film and we went over our mistakes and we’re really going to capitalize on the improvements we made on defense and offense in the last tournament. Even though they’re a top-ranked team, we’re looking to surprise them.”
Leading the Bears offensively this season has been driver Dora Antal. The impressive freshman has marked an outstanding 46 goals in 12 games. To put this number in perspective, her team has given up a total of 69 goals this season, and the player with the second most goals on the team, freshman driver Anna Illes, has just 19.
“Every single one of them can shoot the lights out of the ball,” Hudson said. “At San Diego we really all clicked and started to mesh and gel together so I think it’ll definitely be a different game this time, just because of the fact that we’re learning how to communicate and play defense together.”
One of the main problems for the Gauchos has been their offense. In their seven losses, they scored an average of six goals per game, compared to nine goals per game in their four wins.
“Offensively we need to be more confident shooting,” Murphy said. “I think just the fact that we’re a little bit younger than we were last year makes us a little more hesitant to shoot, and we don’t have as many upperclassmen as we did last year, so we just need more confidence in our shooting.”
Depending on whether they win or lose their first game, the Gauchos will likely play No. 17 UC Davis this weekend as well. The Aggies, who just barely edged UCSB by a score of 6-5 in San Diego, possess an 8-7 record and have already upset two teams higher than them in the rankings.
“[It] is going to be a big game for us,” Murphy said. “We’re looking forward to playing them again and getting a win out of it because we play them in the Big West, too. It’s a team we know we can beat, we just need to work on our shooting.”
The Gauchos will play California at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday in the Anteater Aquatics Complex.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of February 20, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.