The No. 15 UCSB women’s water polo team will have nothing more than a final tune-up game before the Big West tournament starts when it hosts No. 9 Cal State Northridge this Friday.
The Gauchos are still searching for their first win of the month after dropping three straight close games to Big West opponents. At 10-14 overall and 1-3 in the conference, they are set for the Big West’s fifth seed and a first-round matchup with the fourth-seed team, No. 10 Long Beach State, in the Big West Championships.
Northridge owns the conference’s best overall record at 22-7, but in a battle between the two remaining undefeated teams last weekend against No. 6 UC Irvine, the Matadors were handed their first Big West loss. At 3-1 though, they have already secured a first round bye in the tournament as the No. 2 seed.
“We know that they have a really strong class of returning seniors and juniors,” sophomore attacker Bryn Hudson said. “They’re really strong in two-meters so we’re really working on helping each other out and crashing back on defense. [Northridge is] kind of a mystery to us right now, so we’re basically focusing on the fact that if we play our game the best that we can then everything’s going to be okay.”
Defense is going to be the key for UCSB as it has to take on the conference’s top scorer in junior center Marisa Young. In just 29 games, Young has put up an astounding mark of 60 goals. No other player has hit even the 50-goal mark in the Big West this season.
“We’re really focusing on fine-tuning what we need to work on,” Hudson said. “We’re focusing on getting our defense really quick and on-point and everyone on the same page. I think it’s going to be a battle of defense this weekend for sure.”
As they look to end their recent three-game skid, the Gauchos will also have their hands full trying to contain attacker Lindsy Duncan. The senior has accumulated one of the highest goal scoring tallies in the conference with 47 while also leading her team in assists with 43.
“We’ve played some really strong teams lately and I don’t think we’ve been performing poorly, necessarily. It’s just that we’ve been playing really strong competitors,” sophomore utility Holly Smith said. “We’ve played well, but we just need to take it to the next level in order to beat teams like Northridge.”
UCSB had won five straight games before losing its last three conference games, two of which were at home. However, with those losses coming by an average of less than three goals per game, the Gauchos know that they are on the right track heading towards the season’s finale.
“We’re getting better every single game,” Hudson said. “It’s not reflecting that in our record right now, but we’re also playing much higher ranked teams than in the beginning. If you look at the scores in the games we’ve lost, we’re actually playing teams a lot closer than in the beginning of the year.”
One of the main issues for Santa Barbara from the beginning of the season was its inexperience due to a large number of freshmen and sophomores. Though talented, it has yet to be seen if that talent can outweigh the experience of some of the other teams in the conference heading into the Big West Championships.
“I think what’s missing right now is that little extra something to win a game when we’re tied or down by one with a minute left,” Hudson said. “Not many of us have that experience at this high level to really put a team away and finish a game strong. I think that’s definitely what we need to work on, and if we can do that then I think that the Big West tournament and the game against Northridge will go really well for us.”
The Gauchos will take on the Matadors this Friday at 4 p.m. at Campus Pool for their final home match of the season.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of April 17, 2014’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.