Feb. 7, 2024 marked the 38th annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day. As of the 2023-2024 school year, 184 women athletes represent the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in the Big West and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) was founded and first celebrated by the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1987. Women athletes, ranging from young girls to older adults, are celebrated nationwide for their inspiration as well as passion for their sports and physical activity.
At UCSB, women athletes are spread out across the 10 sports (tennis, volleyball, swimming, track and field — indoor and outdoor — cross country, softball, basketball, water polo and soccer) offered by the Intercollegiate Athletics program. Similarly, the men’s athletics program also offers 10 sports. While the men’s program has a golf team, the women’s side makes up for it with their indoor track team.
While the UCSB athletes are committed to their primary sport at UCSB, many grew up as multi-sports athletes until ultimately finding their perfect fit.
“I have played many different sports including swimming, soccer, basketball, volleyball, rock climbing and tennis. But the main sports throughout my life have been swimming, rock climbing and water polo,” Logan Tiska, the potential biology major and freshman water polo goalkeeper from Sacramento, California, said.
Likewise, senior Manuri Alwis — a Folsom, California native — on the women’s soccer team was also exposed to many sports because of how energetic she was at a young age.
“My mom signed me up for soccer, basketball and gymnastics because I was an energy ball that needed an outlet,” Alwis said.
Alyssa Marin, who is a senior sociology major and basketball player from Camarillo, California, said that her love and advocacy for women’s sports brought her to play basketball.
Marin was instantly drawn to not UCSB’s women's basketball team because of the coaches and staff, who were the foundational backbone of the program.
“UCSB’s women’s basketball program was a family. They treated their players with respect and made me feel at home while I was being recruited,” Marin said. “The women on this team support one another and lift each other up.”
Additionally, athletes say that women representation in coaching at UCSB plays a role in shaping their athletes’ collegiate development.
“Our staff is mostly made up of women which is a huge deal to the players and I. Being able to see women in power who can lead and support the people around them is very special,” Marin said. “I have benefited greatly from being surrounded by women in power because it shows the possibilities for the future for women in sports.”
Athletes also said that having women coaches and staff with extensive years of both playing and coaching experience is also beneficial because it brings a profound understanding in how girls and women play sports.
Tiska also highlighted the leadership of their three women coaches on the women’s water polo team as crucial to the players’ understanding and experiences with the nuances of the game specific to women athletes.
“All three of our coaches are women and it helps a lot because men and women’s water polo are similar but have a lot of differences. Having coaches that have played in that game and understand how girls will grab your suit or scratch you is really helpful,” Tiska said.
Alwis also reflected on her relationship with Claire Stovall — the Assistant Athletic Trainer — who helps provide a comfortable space for discussions, enhancing the overall well-being of the team.
While Alwis feels supported by her team and her coaches, she says, being a woman of color in collegiate athletics has been a hardship. “I grew up not seeing a lot of athletes who looked like me,” Alwis said. “There is a certain stereotype for South Asians to be very study-driven and I found myself having somewhat of an identity crisis growing up and playing soccer at the competitive level.”
According to the Women's Sports Foundation, women athletes of color are grossly absent from sports such as lacrosse, golf, swimming, field hockey, softball, tennis and soccer — the sport that has seen the greatest increase in participation and sponsorship since Title IX was implemented. Title IX is a federal law that gives women athletes equal opportunities to participate in educational institutions, sports and funding regardless of race and gender.
For Tiska, promoting equality in sports means challenging the higher standards imposed on women involved in athletics.
“I think it’s the fact that women are held to a higher standard of looking and acting like an ideal student athlete. I think a small action would be to promote the average woman student athlete and highlight all that she does in addition to her sport,” Tiska said.
Despite encountering divergent circumstances compared to her peers, Alwis was able to overcome that barrier by leveraging her resilience, determination and skills in time management to excel both on the soccer field and in the classroom. Alwis just finished her fourth and last season with the women’s soccer team and will be graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in statistics and data science. She hopes to leave a legacy that inspires younger girls to feel confident in their sports.
“I hope that younger girls who look like me — or don’t — see me and are empowered to play sports without being afraid of what society or their peers think,” Alwis said.
Tiska encouraged young girls aspiring to become athletes that obstacles — others doubting their capabilities or overlooking their potential — may arise, but it is important to recognize their greatness and the substantial effort that they have invested in themselves.
“Just trust and be confident in the hard work you put in because it will pay off — maybe not in ways you think, but it will,” Tiska said.
Marin urged young girls to fight for the respect that women deserve in sports in order to foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie within the women athletic community.
“Be proud to be a woman in sports, and be proud to be in a community full of strong and dedicated athletes,” she said.