Leonard Paulasa / The Daily Nexus

After a good start to the season which included a surprising win over then-No. 2 UCLA and narrow losses to No. 6 Cal and No. 7 Michigan, the No. 9 UC Santa Barbara women’s water polo team will travel to Ann Arbor this weekend for the Michigan Invite. 

The Gauchos will play four games in their mini Midwest road trip.They will kick things off with a Saturday doubleheader against No. 23 Indiana and No. 24 Marist, in that order, before playing both No. 21 Wagner and No. 7 Michigan on Sunday.

UCSB will be looking to maintain their form following a 19-2 thrashing of Ottawa University-Arizona in their last game. Freshmen Courtney Heydorff, Alex Mora and Evie Laptin combined scored 10 of the 19 points, a great sign for a team that will be relying on its youth more and more as the season wears on.

Indiana will be playing their first match of the season against the Gauchos on Saturday, and although the team is nationally ranked, they are coming off of a rough 2018-19 season. The Hoosiers went 6-17 last season and weren’t really close to doing any damage in the postseason, losing both matches in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament by double digits. Their best win from last year was actually their first game when they took down No. 15 UCSD by 8-7 at Campus Pool in Santa Barbara, so UCSB definitely can’t take this team lightly.

The key to this game for the Gauchos will be limiting Hoosier sophomore Tina Doherty’s time of possession. 

The attacker had a phenomenal freshman campaign last year, leading Indiana in goals (42) and total points (61) while also finishing second on the team in assists (19). UCSB will have their best chance of winning through limiting her scoring opportunities and forcing her supporting cast to make plays, so look for all eyes to be on her whenever the Hoosiers have possession.

Next up on Saturday for UCSB will be the Marist College Red Foxes. The Red Foxes have lost all three of their games so far this season, although their strength of schedule has been strong with all matchups being against top-15 teams. Marist made it all the way to their conference championship last year but ultimately fell to Wagner, and the team lost some key players in the off-season including Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Defensive Player of the Year Susan Cantoni who graduated. Even with these huge shifts to the roster, they certainly will be hungry for their first win when they compete against the ‘Chos on Saturday. 

UCSB will face off against reigning MAAC champions Wagner College on Sunday in the first of what will be two tough games.

The Seahawks haven’t played a match yet this year, but they are fresh off a 30-10 championship season that ended with an 8-12 loss to UCSD in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This is one of the most lethal offensive teams in the country, spearheaded by MAAC Preseason Co-Player of the Year Sofia Diaz Alvarez. The Spanish attacker had an astounding freshman season, pouring in a team-leading 109 goals en route to a MAAC Rookie of the Year award. With the graduation of her teammate and former MAAC Player of the Year Erica Hardy, Diaz Alvarez will be stepping into an even bigger role in her sophomore season. The Gauchos will have to shut off her production if they want to beat this solid Red Fox team.

The last game of the weekend for UCSB will be a rematch against host University of Michigan. The Wolverines beat the Gauchos 9-7 this past Sunday at the UCSB Winter Invite in a hotly contested match that came down to the last minute. 

One of the keys to this game for the Gauchos will be limiting costly mistakes. They only converted one of their four penalty shots the last time these two teams met up which is just not going to cut it against the top-tier teams. 

UCSB will have a great chance for revenge on Sunday, but they’ll have to be on their A-game if they want to take down the No. 7-ranked Wolverines. 

The games against Indiana and Marist are at 5 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., respectively, on Saturday morning, while Sunday’s games against Wagner and Michigan start at 5 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. on Jan. 26.

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