The UC Santa Barbara women’s water polo team will kick off their 2023 season by hosting their annual Winter Invite, which will take place at UCSB’s campus pool from Jan. 20-22.
The team will face six opponents throughout the weekend: Cal State Monterey Bay, Concordia University Irvine, UC Merced, Indiana University Bloomington, Ottawa University and UCLA. The Gauchos will play two games each day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re excited to play everyone this weekend,” sophomore center Imani Clemons said. “It’s always a great opportunity to see new teams. I think there’s teams this weekend that we’re playing that we’ve never played before, so that should be exciting.”
Because none of the Gauchos’ opponents are in their conference, their games this weekend will not affect their standings later on in the season.
However, although the games lack significance with respect to UCSB’s eventual postseason aspirations, the tournament will provide players with an opportunity to showcase what they have been working on in practice the past few months.
“We’ve definitely been very anxious but excited to play this weekend because we’ve been playing each other for the past couple months,” Clemons said. “Finally getting to play someone else is really exciting.”
The team has placed an emphasis on the defensive side of the ball this season. Especially for their home games, such as the Winter Invite matches, the Gauchos hope to protect their home cage and allow the fewest goals possible.
Outside of the pool, players will look to continue improving in one of the many areas they succeeded in last year: team building.
The team boasts only five new freshmen — seven fewer than last year — but regardless, creating a positive team environment is vital for the team to thrive in the pool this season.
“I think building off of last year, one thing that we’re really focusing on with this year’s 2023 team is just team chemistry,” Clemons said. “We only have four freshmen this year, I believe, so we’re just trying to incorporate everyone [and] hoping everybody gets along.”
The team’s first game will be against Cal State Monterey Bay on Jan. 20 at 12 p.m.