Gauchos Deal UCSD Crushing Blow In OT

    A back-and-forth battle between two of the top teams in women’s water polo, No. 12 UC Santa Barbara and No. 15 UCSD, ended in heartbreak for the home team, as the visiting Gauchos matched the Tritons goal for goal in regulation and pulled away for a 13-12 win in sudden-death overtime on April 15.

    Billy Wong/Guardian
    Junior driver Miho Umezawa and the No. 15 Tritons did all they could to stop the UCSB offense, but ultimately fell to the Gauchos 13-12.

    The Gauchos put down two goals at the start, both by Jean Clark, to gain a shortlived 2-0 advantage, but UCSD’s junior two-meter Natalie Hockett then started the Triton offense, scoring the first goal with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.

    It was clear early on that the game would not be pretty, as UC Santa Barbara dished out a great deal of physical punishment for the Tritons.

    “It was like a wrestling matchup and down the pool,” junior utility Michelle Perkins said.

    Hockett also explained that the heavy physical playing has not been her team’s style and that it caused serious adjustments in their gameplay.

    “When they grab your face, hold, push and kick underwater, we initially get shocked at times because that’s not really how we play,” Hockett said. “We play smart and strategic, but when it comes down to it, we just have to step it up and push right back at them.”

    UCSD managed to continue its comeback push with goals by senior driver Flynn LaRochelle, junior two-meter Sarah Bajorek, junior driver Miho Umezawa and senior two-meter Kirsten Frazer with 37 seconds left, giving UCSD a 5-3 lead. However, the Gauchos retaliated with a single goal at the end of the second quarter to pull Santa Barbara within one.

    “We just kept on them and attacked every time,” Perkins said. “Our defense was very patient, allowing our offense to leave no room for big gaps.”

    Hockett attributed the neck-on-neck playing to the depth of her team.

    “It’s great when five, six, seven different people get goals,” she said. “It was definitely a team effort. If one person steps up and scores a bunch, it’s easy to become dependent on them, but when girls from off the bench are coming in and scoring just as well, it really livens up the team.”

    The third quarter was a continual game of cat and mouse and barely allowed the crowd’s eyes a moment’s rest as the game tied at 5-5, 6-6, and 7-7.

    “We seemed to be in good control of the second part, but our defensive breakdown kept them in the game,” Perkins said. “It became a matter of not being in the right place at the right time and Santa Barbara always managed to find any space we left open for them.”

    UCSD pulled through at the last few pivotal moments thanks to two goals by Perkins and another remarkable score by sophomore utility Nicole Hermann with only two seconds left in the third quarter, to bring the Triton lead to 9-7.

    The seesaw scoring battle trudged on all the way through the final quarter. Santa Barbara hit the first point moving to within one at 9-8, causing a reactionary goal by UCSD sophomore two-meter Judy Emaus at the 5:52 mark to bump the Tritons back up to 10-8. Shortly after, the Gauchos’ Lindsay Knott nailed another for a close 10-9 Triton lead, followed by another UCSD insurance goal by Bajorek to put the Tritons at 11-9 with 4:38 left to go. Santa Barbara answered immediately to squeeze the gap at 11-10, and closed it completely with the game-tying point by Alaina Whitaker with 1:51 left in the game.

    Hockett said that games often go sour due to overanticipation at crunch time.

    “The worst thing is when we get nervous and try to force things to happen too quickly by making rash decisions,” she said. “We should really just slow ourselves down and stick to the plays we know work.”

    Overtime became a painstaking process for both teams. In the first three minutes, Santa Barbara took the initiative with the first goal by Sarah Kovach, bringing the score to 11-12. Over the next three minutes, the Tritons played catch-up, as Perkins pounded one in the cage at the 1:08 mark for another tie and a direct pass into sudden-death overtime. Santa Barbara took a time-out to re-evaluate before ending the game in victory with a 13th and final goal.

    Even in the midst of defeat, UCSD’s head coach Larry Sanders said he was proud of his team.

    “They stayed composed and handled the pressure really well,” he said. “And they have won quite a few close games just like this. It was very competitive, but they never gave up and kept fighting and really deserved that win. I can’t ask for more than their best. This just prepares us for the types of games they will face in conference. The main idea is that they learn, improve, and keep moving forward.”

    The Tritons can move forward in the rankings in their next game against San Diego State University on April 20.

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