SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – This weekend, a new season of UC Santa Barbara women's water polo will be upon us with the UCSB Winter Invite, beginning Friday at 11:00 a.m. at Campus Pool when the Gauchos take on California Baptist University.
This will be the sixth straight year that the opening weekend of the season coincides with the Gauchos hosting the long-running annual invitational, and the fifth straight under head coach Serela Kay, who has compiled a 64-57 overall record with three winning seasons since 2015.
Entering year No. 5 at the helm, Kay is the only coach in UCSB history to have brought the team to the NCAA Tournament. The Gauchos are just two seasons removed from the most successful year in the program's history, when Kay led them to a 19-14 overall and 3-2 conference record en route to their first ever Big West Championship, NCAA Tournament berth, and conference coach of the year award.
Following its season-opener against the Lancers, Santa Barbara will go on to play a total of five games this weekend. Saturday will pit the hosts against Fresno State (11:00 am) and Indiana (4:00 pm). On Sunday, the Gauchos face Wagner College (10:30 am) at the UCSB Rec Center before closing out the weekend back at Campus Pool against UCLA (2:30 pm). Four of the Gauchos' five opponents ended last year with a top-25 national ranking, led by the No. 4 ranked Bruins.
This year's Gauchos comprise a roster of 20 exciting student-athletes – six more than they had last year – evenly split between its 10 returners and 10 newcomers.
Among the returners, perhaps none will be more important to the team's success than its three senior captains in Kate Pipkin, Sarah Kreiser and Shannon Moran, and its leading goalscorer from last year in Sarah Snyder.
No Gaucho has put away more goals over the past two seasons than utility Kate Pipkin, who was named an ACWPC All-American last year following career-highs of 44 goals and 75 points, the latter of which was good for third in the Big West. The former Indiana Hoosier has cracked 40 goals in each of the last two years, but she might have even more value as a passer. Last year, she led the team with 35 assists, while no other Gaucho had more than 16. She also led the team with 27 helpers in 2017, and was Indiana's leader with 54 as a freshman in 2016.
Attacker Sarah Kreiser joined Pipkin as the only Gauchos to be named to the All-Big West Second Team last year, after finishing with 41 goals a second-leading 16 assists. While she ranked near the top of the team in practically every offensive category, she was also a handful on the defensive end, where she led the team in field blocks (12) and was second in steals (33).
Center defender Shannon Moran will be another important presence for UCSB both inside and outside of the pool. The Orinda, Calif. native was named one of the team's three captains this year after posting career-highs across the board last year as a redshirt sophomore.
A name that should be easily found on scoresheets all season long is Sarah Snyder, the team's top goalscorer in 2018. Only Pipkin (85) has scored more times than Snyder (84) over the past two seasons, taking a slight one-goal edge. The former Clovis West High School star finished with 49 goals, tied for fourth in the Big West, scoring in 23 of the Gauchos' 29 matches. She put away multiple goals 15 times, thanks in large part to her team-high .458 shooting percentage, and was named an All-Big West Honorable Mention.
At goalkeeper will be junior Kenzi Snyder and sophomore Becca Buck, who split time defending the cage last season. Snyder, who has led the team in saves for two straight years, racked up 171 saves on a .584 save percentage last year, posting a 13-12 record as a starter. Buck, who resided in the cage for more than one-third of the season minutes-wise, finished with a 3-1 record, tallying 100 saves and a .637 save percentage en route to All-Big West Freshman Team honors.
In total, the Winter Invite will see 12 teams compete in 25 games throughout the weekend. You can keep up with the Gauchos and the rest of the participating teams by checking on the Tournament Central Page. Results will be updated periodically throughout the weekend.