Spring quarter is on its way and so is conference play. The No. 14 UCSB women’s water polo team heads down south this weekend to take on the No. 6 UC Irvine Anteaters for its first Big West match of the season.

After calling to a teammate, Bryn Hudson throws her the ball. Dustin Harris/Daily Nexus

After calling to a teammate, Bryn Hudson throws her the ball. Dustin Harris/Daily Nexus

The last couple of months have been challenging, yet constructive for the Gauchos. In the last 22 games that Santa Barbara has played during non-conference, 20 of them have been against top ranked teams including No 2. UCLA (17-2) and No. 3 Stanford (15-2).

Going into the Big West season with a 12-10 overall record UCSB is looking to put the losses behind and build on lessons learned in order to win the Big West this year.

Santa Barbara has shown great growth since its first match of the year in all aspects, especially offense wise. With more than a handful of players stepping up all year, the Gauchos now lead the Big West with 226 goals scored, averaging 10.27 goals per game.

In the first 11 matches UCSB averaged 10.6 goals per game, but in the second half of non-conference the average improved to 12 games per game.

This accomplishment could not be done without several key players such as leading scorer junior utility Taylor Shore. She has 39 goals in the last 22 games averaging 1.99 goals per game, as well as 18 assists.

The Corona native has shown outstanding skills not only offensively, but offensively as well. With 36 steals thus far in the season plus her past years, she now holds the record for the most steals of any Gaucho.

Right behind her is senior center Lauren Martin with 38 goals and 40 earned ejections, after redshirting last season. Senior attacker Bryn Hudson not only has contributed 30 goals, but she has also led the team in assists with a total of 33.

Aside from leading the other teams scoring wise, Santa Barbara also holds the spot for most goalkeeper saves thanks to senior goalkeeper MacKenzie Brokaw. In the 696 minutes that she has played, Brokaw has had 175 saves, averaging 7.95 saves per game.

Although winning the Big West will not be an easy task with opponents such as No. 4 Hawaii amongst others in the mix, the Gauchos count with a solid team on both ends of the pool that can really take them far this season.

To kick off the journey to the top, the first challenge will be to defeat the Anteaters this Sunday.

UCI, who is 13-9 overall, is returning home after playing three matches on the island. Although they fell to Hawaii in a close game 3-2, Irvine collected two wins over No. 10 UC San Diego and No. 24 Bakersfield. This helped the climb a spot on the rankings.

The biggest offensive threat to Santa Barbara is their lead scorer Mary Brooks who has a total of 39 goals in the last 22 games, followed by Gabby Pierandozzi with 19.

One of the major keys to the Anteaters’ success is their coaching staff. Both their head coach and assistant coach’s U.S women’s team has just secured a berth in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil after winning the qualification tournament.

Sunday’s conference opener will take place at UC Irvine and will begin at 12 P.M.