UCSB women’s water polo starts season hot, winning 5 of 6 games at Winter Invite

In their six games at the 2023 season opener Winter Invite, the UC Santa Barbara women’s water polo team made it clear that they are better than the rankings suggest.

Nexus file photo

The gauchos competed ranked 19th in the nation by the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) over the weekend. At the Invite, they demonstrated tenacity and elite unity in their six dominant performances, from which they emerged victorious in five.

UCSB started the weekend with two games on Jan. 20, in which they beat Cal State Monterey Bay 14-0 and defeated Concordia University Irvine 15-5 in similarly comfortable fashion. The Gauchos then defeated UC Merced on January 21 by a remarkable 22-0 score.

The Gauchos’ next opponent, Indiana University Bloomington, was expected to end UCSB’s winning streak as they are ranked 14th on the CWPA rankings. But despite being five places behind Indiana, the Gauchos used their momentum from the last three games to claim a surprising 13-10 victory.

“We knew Indiana was going to be one of our toughest games of the weekend, so that was the game [where] Everyone had to come together,” said Caitlyn Snyder, the Redshirts’ senior utility. “Everyone was on the same page; everyone wanted to win. I think one of the big things was the momentum in the first quarter [continuing] all the way through – everyone was consistent with their play on defense and offense.

After beating Ottawa University 18-6 on Jan. 22, the Gauchos faced UCLA, ranked #3 by the CWPA. While UCSB ultimately trailed with a final score of 11-6, the group was able to legitimately face off against a talented opponent, an impressive feat that fittingly capped an overall successful invitation for the Gauchos.

“I think the UCLA game was a great ending,” Snyder said. “Obviously we didn’t win in the end, but UCLA is a great team and just being down by one in the fourth quarter was great to show we could compete with anyone.”

Snyder, who received a Division I All-American honorable mention in 2022, played a crucial role in the team’s success all weekend, scoring 20 goals in his six games.

The team also saw outstanding performances from sophomore center Imani Clemons, who scored 3 of the Gauchos’ 6 goals against UCLA, and redshirt sophomore utility Leigh Lyter contributed 4 points in UCSB’s decisive win over Indiana.

While individual player performances certainly helped the team achieve a 5-1 win-loss record, the key factor in the Gauchos’ success throughout the weekend was their ability to work as a unit.

“Our chemistry was good, but now I think it’s great,” Snyder said. “We all have the same goal, and that goal is to win a Big West Championship, and when everyone has the same goal, everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.”

UCSB players have a long season ahead of the Big West Championship. The team’s next challenge is January 27-29 at the Princeton Invite. After a strong start to the season, the Gauchos are hoping to continue to improve and eventually make their goal a reality.

“Every game you play, win or lose, you win something and learn from it,” Snyder said. “I think we still have a lot to learn and [there are] more things we can do to improve offensively and defensively, but all [is] believe in each other and support each other and as long as we keep doing that, hopefully we will achieve our goal.”

A version of this article appeared on page 7 of the 26 January 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.