No. 18 Gauchos water polo will host No. 11 Long Beach State tonight at Campus Pool in Santa Barbara. The matchup is set to start at noon.
UCSB lost its previous game against No. 5 Hawai’i by a score of 16-5. The Gauchos got goals from five different players, including first quarter scratches from Claire Kelly and Juju Amaral to bring them level at 2-2. Sarah Owens also scored in the second to bring UCSB back within one at 4-3. However, Hawaii would score 10 unanswered goals from there while cruising the rest of the way.
Utility Caitlyn Snyder has been one of the program’s top producers for the past few years, and that hasn’t changed during her redshirt junior year. The Fresno, Calif. native is averaging 1.9 goals and 2.0 assists per game, leading the team in total goals (37) and assists (40). She also paces the Gauchos in drawn exclusions (26) and field blocks (10), owns an efficient .440 shooting percentage and is second on the team with 20 steals.
Redshirt freshman attacker Leigh Lyter is tied with Snyder as the team’s leading goalscorer with 37 this year. She also paces her squad with 23 steals and is second with 19 drawn exclusions. The former Mira Costa High School standout helped give the Gauchos their first win over a top-20 team this season, sending in an incredible buzzer-beating game-winner from near the middle of the pool to knock off then-No. 19 Princeton 15-14.
Goalkeepers Madison Button, Taylor McEvilly and Casey Coppock have split time in the cage this year. Button (6-3) has recorded 49 saves (.374 Save %), while McEvilly (4-5) has a team-leading 50 (.275). McEvilly also has three assists and 12 steals, while Button has four steals and two assists. Coppock, a freshman, (1-1) has appeared in four games and has 14 saves on a team-best .412 save percentage.
After Snyder and Lyter, UCSB has seven other goalscorers who have reached double-figures. Redshirt freshman attacker Nina Munson is third on the team with 32 goals and fourth with 15 assists. Redshirt junior attacker Owens has tallied 28 goals and 12 assists. Freshman utility Annie Kuester comes in fifth with 23 goals on a team-leading .622 shooting percentage. Imani Clemons and Drew Halvorson have put away 13 goals and freshman utility Cami Mras has 11. Amaral has also come on strong as of late, scoring nine of her 10 total goals over her past six outings.
UCSB opened the year with a 4-1 record for the third time under head coach Serela Kay. The last time the Gauchos started this way was in 2019, when they finished with an overall record of 22-8.
The Gauchos have averaged a +5.1 margin of victory in their nine wins. They have been excellent in close games, boasting a 5-1 mark in games decided by one goal. From Jan. 22-23, they won three straight games by one goal, all of which capped off a memorable fourth quarter comeback. Against Wagner, they trailed 14-13 with 4:25 left before scoring three straight goals. Later in the day, they came back from a three-goal third quarter deficit against Princeton before Lyter’s epic game-winner put them on top 15-14. The following day, UCSB won its third straight in miraculous fashion, overcoming a 12-9 Brown lead over the final 1:38 of regulation before taking a 14-13 overtime win.
UCSB was only in action for a month in 2021 before the rest of its season was canceled, finishing with an overall 3-5 record. The Gauchos opened the year with a pair of one-goal wins at No. 17 San Diego State, the 99th and 100th career wins for head coach Serela Kay. Three weeks later, they came away with a 12-10 home win over No. 11 UC Davis in their Big West opener. Amanda Legaspi ended the year atop the UCSB stat sheet with 14 goals and Snyder (9 goals, 6 assists) finished second on the team with 15 points.
Back in the lineup for her fourth year with the team is perennial producer Snyder. Goalkeeper Button also returns after starting in every game of 2021, when she averaged 8.8 saves per game. Munson, Owens, Lyter and Kelly are also among the team’s returners. The roster also welcomes 12 true freshmen. Coppock and McEvilly join the goalkeeper crew; Amaral, Aidan Flynn, Mackie Whitehead, Emily Ferguson and Mackenzie Murphy are on the attacking unit along with center Clemons; Mel Damato and Ken Corlett bolster the defense; and Mras and Kuester are listed as utilities.
The 2022 season marks the eighth at the helm for Serela Kay, the Gauchos’ all-time winningest coach. Kay owns a 112-87 (.563) record since joining the team in June of 2014.
Under Kay’s leadership, five Gauchos have earned All-American status for a total of seven selections, and 13 Gauchos have earned a total of 21 All-Big West selections. In 2016, she was named the Big West Coach of the Year, becoming the first head coach in program history to be named conference coach of the year. Following that season, the program had multiple All-Americans for the first time since 1999, as the Gauchos clinched their first ever NCAA Tournament berth and earned their first ever Big West Championship and NCAA Tournament wins.
The Gauchos’ 2022 schedule includes a home tournament, two away tournaments, and three other non-conference games on top of their six-game Big West Conference slate. Following the UCSB Winter Invite, they will head inland to face Biola and Redlands on Jan. 28. Cal Baptist will host the Gauchos on Jan. 29.
The month of February will see UCSB close out its non-conference schedule at UCSD’s Triton Invite (Feb. 12-13) and UC Irvine’s Barbara Kalbus Invitational (Feb. 25-27). The Gauchos begin conference play with a Saturday home meeting against UCI on Mar. 5. Senior Day will welcome UC San Diego (Apr. 9) to town for their home finale, and the final regular season game will be played at UC Davis on Apr. 16.
From there, Kay and her team travel to Hawai’i for the Big West Tournament, taking place from April 21-23, as the Gauchos will battle for their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2016. A successful trip to Honolulu would send UCSB to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the NCAA Tournament from May 6-8.
Michael Jorgenson writes about sports for UCSB.