After a pair of COVID-shortened seasons, the UCSB women’s water polo team recently wrapped up its 2021-22 campaign and held its first end-of-year banquet in several years, where it handed out team awards and selected its captains for next year.
“I am proud of the passion, pride, and perseverance team 2022 put in throughout this season,” head coach Serela Kay said. “I have no doubt the strides we will take in the future will be big due to the little moments we endured together. Exciting times ahead!”
Co-MVPs – Caitlyn Snyder and Leigh Lyter
From the outset of the season, utility Caitlyn Snyder and attacker Leigh Lyter filled up the box score for the Gauchos. They would go on to lead UCSB with 42 goals apiece, resulting in co-MVP honors as voted by their teammates.
The Gauchos’ lone representative on the 2022 All-Big West Team was Snyder, and with good reason, as she enjoyed her most productive year yet during her redshirt junior season. The Fresno, Calif. native led the Big West in assists for the first time, registering 50 – 13 more than the next-highest player in the Big West. Her 92 total goal contributions ranked third in the conference, the most of any Gaucho under head coach Serela Kay.
Lyter meanwhile was phenomenal in her second year with the team, putting up 12 goals in the first weekend of competition alone at the UCSB Winter Invite. The former Mira Costa High School star ended up with five of UCSB’s nine four-goal performances this season.
Active on both sides of the ball, Lyter led the Gauchos with 29 steals as well and had the second-highest shooting percentage (.467). One of her most memorable moments came early in the season when she helped give UCSB its first win over a top-20 team, sending in an incredible buzzer-beating game-winner from near the middle of the pool to knock off then-No. 19 Princeton 15-14.
Co-Most Improved Players – Taylor McEvilly and Millie Mackay
Two key Gaucho defenders were recognized for their growth as the team’s Co-Most Improved honorees.
Freshman Taylor McEvilly wound up playing the most games at goalkeeper, starting in 13 of 20 appearances. She finished with a team-leading 64 saves to go along with seven assists and 17 steals. One of her best performances saw her post a season-high nine saves (.643) and an assist in a 10-7 win over No. 24 CSUN on Mar. 11. It was the fewest goals UCSB allowed against a ranked opponent all season.
Defender Camilla Mackay continued to get better throughout the course of the season, playing in every game over the final two months of the season. She ended her redshirt freshman year with six steals, including one in each of the final three games, and had an assist in the Big West Tournament First Round.
Defensive Specialist of the Year – Claire Kelly
Another crucial piece of the defense was Claire Kelly, who was voted the team’s Defensive Specialist of the Year. Kelly battled hard in the defensive third of the pool all season, tallying 22 steals and five field blocks. She also finished with 10 goals, was second on the team with 28 assists, and fourth with 16 drawn exclusions.
The redshirt sophomore opened her year with a career-high three goals against No. 23 Wagner and went for a season-high four assists in each of her next two games. Over that span, she contributed to 14 total goals, making her the only Gaucho other than Snyder and Lyter to accomplish that this year.
Rookie of the Year – Annie Kuester
Utility Annie Kuester appeared in 23 of 24 games this season and did not disappoint. She ended her freshman campaign with the fifth-most goals (27), resulting in her being named the team’s Rookie of the Year.
Kuester was deadly efficient when she decided to go for goal, finishing with UCSB’s highest shooting percentage (.563). She was also just one of four Gauchos to collect 20 steals, also recording 13 drawn exclusions and three assists.
Nick Johnson Inspiration Award – Mary Beth Heffelfinger
Redshirt freshman attacker Mary Beth Heffelfinger was awarded the Nick Johnson Inspiration Award, given to the player who exemplifies traits such as selflessness, teamwork and extraordinary work ethic both inside and outside of the pool. Heffelfinger played in nine games this season, totaling two goals, three assists and three steals.
Team 2023 Captains – Caitlyn Snyder and Sarah Owens
Next year’s co-captains will be two of the team’s top producers and veteran leaders in Caitlyn Snyder and Sarah Owens. Both will be in their senior year in 2022-23, their fifth overall with Gaucho women’s water polo.
Michael Jorgenson writes about sports for UCSB.