The UC Irvine Women’s Water Polo team suffered a heartbreaking loss at the hands of conference rival UC Santa Barbara, 5-4 on April 23 at the Anteater Aquatics Complex.
The 19th-ranked Anteaters entered the game tied with 14th-ranked UCSB in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings. Mired in a five-game losing streak, the Anteaters needed a victory to improve their seeding in the upcoming MPSF championships. However, the stringent Gaucho defense overwhelmed UCI’s attack, holding the Irvine offense to only four points.
‘The game went well in regards to the team learning a lesson in mental preparation,’ said Head Coach Marc Hunt. ‘There is always room for improvement, especially when you are on the low side of a 5-4 loss.’
The match was a defensive battle. The first quarter began with UCSB senior Mica Bell scoring the first goal. UCI freshman driver Robyn Kaake put up a goal to tie the score at the one-minute mark. However, Gaucho junior Katy Kunkel responded with a clutch shot in the last possession of the quarter, putting UC Santa Barbara ahead, 2-1.
Irvine senior utility Melissa Fernandez tied the match during the early stages of the second quarter but Gaucho freshman ZiZi Clark scored a breakaway goal, giving Santa Barbara the lead going into halftime, 3-2. UCI and UCSB traded goals throughout the third quarter. The Gauchos prevailed and took the lead, 5-4, before going into the final quarter of regulation.
Both teams stepped up their intensity in the fourth quarter, relentlessly challenging the respective defenses of the two teams. UCI senior goalie Sunceray Chamblee made several spectacular saves in the final quarter but costly turnovers prevented the Anteaters from taking advantage of the stagnant Gaucho offense. With neither team scoring in the final quarter, Santa Barbara eventually held on to the 5-4 lead, extending Irvine’s losing streak to six games.
‘Our team did everything we were supposed to,’ Kaake said. ‘We just made a few mistakes that ended up costing us the game.’
Kaake led all scorers with two goals, while Fernandez and senior driver Michelle Carey contributed with a goal each.
The MPSF tournament is scheduled for the weekend of April 30-May 2, leaving the Anteaters only a week for final tune-ups. Although they will enter the tournament as a low seed, the Anteaters are relishing the role of underdogs, looking optimistically toward improving their play throughout the tournament.
‘We are going to be the underdogs and people are going to overlook us,’ said senior utility Tiffany Frish. ‘The seniors want this really bad and I feel we are going to come out and surprise a few teams.’
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