In the Big West Tournament First Round on Thursday at Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex, the No. 6 seed UC Santa Barbara women’s water polo team clashed with No. 3 Long Beach State in a thrilling back-and-forth affair that went down to the final shot.
The Gauchos (11-13) looked to avenge two regular season defeats at the hands of the Beach (14-13), but on their final possession, freshman Juju Amaral’s potential game-tying lob shot went off the post, sending LBSU to the semifinals.
UCSB opened the scoring a little over a minute in, as utility Caitlyn Snyder found redshirt freshman attacker Nina Munson from 10 meters out to quickly fire a driven skip shot past the goalkeeper Chelsea Oliver’s right side.
That would be the Gauchos’ only goal of the opening period, as LBSU ended it on a 3-0 run.
Santa Barbara would score early in the second quarter once again, as Snyder set up Halvorson at the 7:13 mark for another deep skip shot that went in off of Oliver’s hands. However, the Beach would score two more goals to push its lead up to 5-2.
The Gauchos ended the half with a huge shift in momentum. Off an exclusion, a quick restart by Snyder tallied her third assist while Halvorson notched her second goal.
25 seconds later, redshirt freshman Camilla Mackay sent a great lead pass out of the defensive end to Snyder, who snuck a shot inside the near post to head into halftime trailing 5-4.
The third quarter belonged to the Gauchos. Freshman attacker Aidan Flynn lasered one into the top left corner to make it a one-score game at the 6:00 mark.
Freshman utility Annie Kuester tied it at 6-6 on a five-meter penalty goal with 4:33 remaining in the quarter.
It took just 20 seconds before UCSB’s next goal, as the Gauchos turned a stop into a blitz of a counterattack. Snyder was found inside in a great position before fending off her defender, turning and scoring to give UCSB its first lead since the opening minutes.
With 3:29 to go, Amaral gave the Gauchos their largest lead of the day 8-6, skipping a gogeous shot from way outside just outside the reach of the goalkeeper.
LBSU erased the UCSB lead with two unanswered scores, tying it at 8-8 just seconds into the fourth.
However, Leigh Lyter put the Gauchos back ahead on a physical play right after. The redshirt freshman attacker got the ball in a central position and was able to rise and fire just as her defender’s arms went down, making it 9-8.
The Beach locked down on defense the rest of the way, scoring the next three goals to go up 11-9 with 4:30 to go.
With under a minute remaining, a huge save by Oliver seemed to seal the LBSU win, but the Gauchos applied pressure causing the Beach to call a timeout it didn’t have. That awarded another penalty for Kuester, who scored with clinical precision under pressure.
Just 10 seconds separated the shot clock from the game clock. Needing a huge stop, the Gauchos got it as Kuester picked off an errant LBSU pass with less than 30 seconds left on the clock.
Following a timeout, Snyder sent a long pass across the pool to Amaral with under 15 ticks to go. Amaral was able to get her lob shot over the outstretched arm of the goalkeeper, but it dinked off the far post. From there, LBSU played keep away until the final buzzer.
Snyder’s ends her redshirt junior year as UCSB’s leader in goal contributions (42 goals, 50 assists) – 38 more than the closest Gaucho – for the first time in her productive career. She had at least one goal or assist in all 24 appearances this season, including 10 assists over her final four outings.
Lyter’s 42nd and final goal of the year tied her with Snyder for the team-lead. She finishes her first Gaucho campaign second on the team with 54 points.
Freshman goalkeeper Taylor McEvilly had six saves as she played all 32 minutes in the cage.
Halvorson tied her season-high in goals with two, doing so for the fifth time this season.
Munson became the third and last Gaucho to reach 50 points this year with her goal to open the game.
This marks the first time all year that UCSB has lost a game by one goal. The Gauchos were incredibly successful in close games, entering the day 5-0 in goals decided by one score.
Michael Jorgenson writes about sports for UCSB.