After a grueling stretch of eight games over the previous two weekends of play, the No. 9 UCSB women’s water polo team was treated to a week off in order to prepare for the Triton Invitational at UC San Diego beginning this Saturday.

“It’s always nice to have a little break after going two weekends in a row,” Head Coach Serela Kay said.

Santa Barbara will play No. 22 Cal State Northridge on Saturday and will face either Marist or Michigan later that same day depending on the result of each game. The Gauchos will play in two additional games on Sunday against opponents who will be determined by Saturday’s game results.

In its last invitational, UCSB went 1-1 at Arizona after defeating Wagner but losing against Arizona State. Entering the Triton Invitational with a 5-3 overall record this season so far, UCSB has only lost to teams that are ranked above them in the national rankings: No. 7 Michigan, No. 2 USC and No. 5 ASU.

On the other hand, CSUN, after beginning the season 1-6, has strung together three wins in a row as they look to stay in good form. Since 2011, the Matadors have only beaten the Gauchos three times in 12 matchups.

“They return all of their starters from last year, so they’re a little bit older of a team,” Kay said. “It’s important that we come out and focus on the defensive end to start, and everything from there will come.”

The stout defense of UCSB will have to deal with CSUN junior attacker Katelyn Fairchild who has scored a team-high 23 goals this season in just 10 games. This is a Gaucho defense that held the Matadors to only four goals in both matchups last season. It will be a clash of youth and experience on Saturday afternoon.

Following their matchup versus CSUN, UCSB will play in a rematch against either the No. 7 Wolverines or No. 23 Marist, who it faced during the Winter Invitational.

Santa Barbara was defeated by Michigan that weekend 7-4, so there is an opportunity to get even after being handed its first loss of the season by the Wolverines.

“Excited about the possibility of facing either of those teams again,” Kay said. “We played [Michigan] tough the first time around.”

The youth of the UCSB roster has been a work in progress this year. However, against great competition, they have been able to put together impressive results.

“Every game that we play we’re learning something new about ourselves as a team,” Kay said. “The freshmen are getting better and better.”

With all the freshmen on the team, the more experienced players have an expanded role in guiding the newcomers. Kay recently had an important conversation with seniors Sophie Trabucco and Jenna Solberg about this season and about their important roles.

“Both [Trabucco and Solberg] have a big defensive presence for our team; they’re both very competitive and tough,” Kay said. “You can’t do it without players like that. It was really special to be able to share publicly how important that sort of player is.”

UCSB is ready to get back in the pool for some more competitive action as they look to continue to improve their chemistry.

“This weekend, the main objective is to learn how to play together a little bit more and start putting the pieces together,” Kay said. “It’ll be fun once we get a few more games under our belts and things will start clicking.”

Last season, Santa Barbara finished in eighth place at the Triton Invitational out of 16 teams. This confident bunch is ready to improve upon that result in this year’s event with the help of the young, great freshmen and the reliable seniors.

UCSB will play Cal State Northridge Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in their first match at the Triton Invitational in La Jolla.


A version of this story appeared on p. 6 of the Thursday, February 9, 2017 print edition of the Daily Nexus.