Season Preview: Gaucho Women's Water Polo Enters a New Era

Jan. 22, 2009

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - There is a sense of optimism surrounding the UC Santa Barbara women's water polo team. The 2009 season will mark a new era for Gaucho women's water polo as the squad finds itself under new leadership and in a new conference.

Last June, it was announced that current UCSB men's water polo coach and Olympian, Wolf Wigo, would take over the reigns of the women's program as well, making him the sixth head coach in program history. Wigo - who has led the men's team to a 70-56 (.556) record during the past four seasons and three consecutive seasons with a No. 6 national ranking - is joined on the deck by first year assistants Cathy Neushul and Tim Settem, both of whom join the Gauchos with years of coaching experience.

In addition to the new coaching crew, the Gauchos join the Big West Conference for its inaugural women's water polo season. Breaking free from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation gives the Gauchos a better chance to reach the NCAA National Championship when the conference gets its automatic berth to the eight-team field in 2011. No longer in competition with powerhouse programs UCLA, Stanford and USC for the conference title, UCSB could be in contention for a national crown as soon in as two seasons.

"Being in the Big West is huge for us," Wigo said. "There is no one dominant team so it's anyone's to win. If we can get hot at the end of the season and improve, we could win the conference. And it's always exciting to be able to qualify for the NCAA's."

The Gauchos and Wigo are not getting ahead of themselves, however, as the team will have to make great strides in the coming years. After going 6-21 overall last season, the Gaucho women return to the pool this season with a lot to prove.

"The women are training really hard," Wigo said. "The want to prove that they are better than the finishes they have had (over the last couple of seasons). They think they are better and they think we can have a better team."

Straight out of the gate, the Gauchos will face some challenges as they have holes to fill from last year's line up. UCSB lost its starting goalkeeper, Jenny Gonzales, and attacker, Lindsay Knott, to graduation and will be without junior Christie Clark this season. Clark, the number two scorer on the team in 2008, will be redshirting the season. Still, a lot of talent remains on the Gaucho roster.

Goalkeepers
With two-year starting goalkeeper Gonzales gone, UCSB will look to a pair of sophomores to step up and manage the cage. Chelsea Carrillo and Kate Murphy will battle it out for the starting nod in goal.

"Both of the goalies are doing an excellent job in practice. They are pretty equal and are fighting for the position; it is yet to be determined who gets the starting nod. If either of them is having an off day, we can throw the other in." Wigo said.

While Carrillo sat out much of last season with an injury, Murphy did get playing time in a handful of games, tallying a total of 20 saves on the season.

Two-Meters
While relatively inexperienced in the goal, the Gauchos return several experienced two-meter players for the 2009 season.

At the top of that list is junior Lizzie Rouleau, who was fourth on the team last season with 23 goals and led the team with 32 earned penalties or ejections. "Lizzie is a really strong talented player that people have trouble guarding," Wigo said. "She is versatile and we don't give up anything by having her play other positions."

Claire Buchanan returns to the Gauchos for her sophomore season. During her first year at UCSB, Buchanan posted 12 goals and was third on the team with 22 penalties or ejections drawn.

According to Wigo, "Claire is one of the fastest players on the team and can also play on the perimeter. This allows us to have a couple two-meter players in at the same time."

Rounding out the crew in the center is another sophomore - Kristin Kulakowski, who scored four goals as a true freshman.

"Kristin, coming off of the bench, can provide key minutes for us," Wigo said. "She is more of a traditional two-meter player and is real strong and can do a lot of damage while in there."

Other options in the center include utility players such as senior Gillian Morgan, who according to Wigo, "is a threat from anywhere. She is a big, strong woman that can post-up and take advantage of a mismatch."

Morgan has led the Gauchos in scoring over each of the last two seasons and is ranked third all-time amongst Gaucho career goal leaders with 122 during her three seasons in the blue and gold.

Defenders
On the defensive end, the Gauchos bring back a pair of strong two-meter defenders in senior Amanda Tipton and junior Katlin Kubas.

Tipton, who ranks 16th on the Gaucho all-time career goals leaders list, will look to end her career with a bang. The senior is "a really strong, talented, defender," according to Wigo.

Returning after a year of absence from the Gaucho roster is Kubas, who has tallied 14 goals in her career at UCSB.

"Katlin has been training really well and is a real fighter," Wigo said. "It is going to be hard for opposing two-meters to score on her."

"Both of these players can post-up and can take a weak link into the center. That is a real positive," Wigo said.

Attackers
On the perimeter, the Gauchos will be relying on several younger players to step up and become playmakers this season.

After taking a season off, Alisha Khan returns for her sophomore season. Kahn played in 37 games as a true freshman in 2007 and scored 11 goals while also dishing out 14 assists.

"Alisha is getting back into the swing of things," Wigo said. "She has some game experience and can be a really dangerous outside shooter and will be a playmaker."

Sophomore Katie Kepner also returns after a solid freshman campaign in which she tallied 14 goals and handed out 20 assists. Kepner also led the team with 22 steals.

"Katie will play mainly on the right side for us. She is a smart player and will be an assist leader."

Fueling the Gaucho counter attack will be a trio of speedy players: Taylor Byrne, Michelle Beaudreau and Cailee Kilroy.

Byrne - who is now entering her junior year - is described by Wigo as, "a really fast counter player that will be expected to push our counter attack. She is a good team player that can put the ball away if left open."

Beaudreau, a sophomore who tallied 13 steals during her freshman campaign, will provide depth to the counter attack and a good outside shot to the Gaucho offense.

Kilroy will be the fastest player on the roster according to Wigo. "It will be good to have her out there forcing other teams to cover her and creating opportunities."

Rounding out the Gauchos' sizable sophomore class are attackers Kathryn Nelson, Marilee Silveria and Jillian Waldron.

Nelson posted seven goals and was fourth on the team with 14 assists during her first season in the blue and gold.

"Kathryn is a strong player that doesn't make many mistakes," Wigo said. "It is good to have her out there because she can put the ball away.

"Jillian got some good playing time last year. She is a versatile player who can guard two meters as well as drive," Wigo continued.

Silveria, who is described as a "very accurate shooter" will be looking to earn some playing time as the season progresses.

Newcomers
The Gauchos will welcome four freshmen to the active roster this season: Alyssa Rangel, Elle Quane, Jamie Moran and Kelly Hendrickson.

Rangel, who redshirted the 2007 season, is a four-time All-CIF Division III selection out of Whittier High School.

"Alyssa is one of our smartest players," Wigo said. She has great vision of the pool. She will have a lot of assists and is a real playmaker. She is not as fast as some of her teammates, but her anticipation is better."

Quane, comes to UCSB out of El Segundo High School where she was the All-Ocean League MVP following her senior season.

"Elle has the potential to develop into a strong two-meter defender," Wigo said. "She just needs experience at a higher level."

Moran is a four-time All-Diablo Foothill Athletic League selection and three-time All-North Coast Section honoree out of Alhambra High School.

"Jamie is very physical player that likes to shoot the ball - those are good qualities," Wigo said.

Rounding out the freshman class is Hendrickson, who comes to UCSB out of Abraham Lincoln High School where she was a two-time All-BUAL honoree.

"Kelly has a very strong shot and has a lot of potential, but she needs to study the game and get some experience at this level," Wigo said.

The Schedule
The Gauchos will open the 2009 season on Saturday, Jan. 24 when they head to Cal Baptist's Lancer Invite. UCSB will take on Cal State Bakersfield, Cal State San Bernardino and Concordia on the season's opening day.

The first true measuring stick will be the following tournament - UC San Diego's Triton Invite - that is being held on Feb. 7-8. The tourney will feature 16 teams, 12 of which are ranked in the Collegiate Water Polo Association's Preseason Top-20 Poll. Five of the six Big West Conference teams will also be in attendance, including the Gauchos' first-round match-up: Cal State Northridge.

UCSB will play in the UC Irvine Invitational on Feb. 21 and 22, which will feature the nation's top teams, before returning home for the entire month of March. During that month, the Gauchos will host five games, including Big West contests with UC Davis and Pacific, and the Gaucho Invite on the weekend of Mar. 7-8.

In April, UCSB will wrap up its conference slate on the road, facing Northridge, UC Irvine and Long Beach State at their respective pools while also playing neutral site games against Cal Baptist and Sonoma State.

During the weekend of Apr. 24-26, the Gauchos will participate in the inaugural Big West Conference Championship Tournament, being hosted by Pacific.

With their No. 17 preseason national ranking, it is obvious that not much is expected by the collegiate water polo world from the 2009 Gauchos. UCSB, however, knows its own potential and will be looking to surprise people this season.

"Our goal is to improve throughout the year and keep moving up the national rankings each season," Wigo said. "For this season, I am cautiously optimistic. You can't put anything on paper about why we should be any good at all, but we have strong players that can play better than they have. I know we can play pretty good offense so it is just a matter of us gelling on defense."

- UCSBgauchos.com -