April 13, 2009

Morgan's goals help turn around Gauchos

April 13, 2009

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - And the goals just keep coming.

Over the course of this or any season, no UCSB women's water polo player has put the ball in the net more than Gillian Morgan. And thankfully for the No. 16 Gauchos, it's not over. Morgan, who added two more goals in Saturday's Big West Conference 11-10 double-overtime loss to No. 9 UC Irvine, now has 69 and counting.

On April 4th, in a loss to conference rival Cal State Northridge, Morgan tied Kelley Tiffany's school record of 61 goals, set in 2001. Admittedly angered and inspired by the loss, Morgan went on a scoring rampage with six goals in a 15-9 defeat of Cal Baptist later that day.

The utility player said she was glad to set the record, but would much rather have more wins for a team that, despite its ranking, is 0-4 in Conference play.

"(The record) is something I really haven't thought about until recently," the Sacramento native said. "I was just trying to help us win games. It is a better season because we are winning more games. "

Coach Wolf Wigo said that a big reason for UCSB's (13-10 overall) success is Morgan.

"It is impressive for Gillian to put up those numbers with teams knowing who she is and marking her every game," Wigo said. "Because frankly, if she doesn't score, we are in a lot of trouble."

Morgan credits Wigo with stabilizing a program in disarray. Last season, the Gauchos' final one as a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference, the team had to deal with an abrupt midseason coaching change en route to a 6-21 record. Wigo, a three-time Olympian who will be in his fifth season as the UCSB men's coach this fall, is in his first on the women's side.

"We are really luck to have (Wolf) with us this year," Morgan said. "He is my fourth coach since I have come here, and in a short time, he has changed the attitude of the team and help turned around what could have been a disastrous season. Personally, I have learned a lot from him from positioning to technique."

The 21-year-old also credited her hometown coach Rafael Ruano with a large part of her success. Ruano coached Morgan first with the American River Water Polo Club and then at Rio Americano High School. While Morgan would play on four CIF Championship teams, her club has been even more successful-growing from 60 members in her first year, to over 900 presently.

"My sister Whitney (who later was the starting goalie for two NCAA final teams while at USC) and I were very fortunate to be part of the program and play for him," Morgan said.

Ruano said that he also learned valuable lessons of having not one, but two outstanding players from one family.

"Even though they both had the body type to be a goalie, I knew right away that there was absolutely no way that they were going to play the same position," Ruano said. "While Whitney proved to be an outstanding goalie, Gillian had a knack for being around the ball and always in position to score.

"She played with a lot of confidence and toughness, and she also had a very strong will. Even though this led to some head butting over the years, because she wanted to do well, I had a lot of fun coaching her."

This admitted stubbornness has fueled Morgan into putting the ball into the net frequently for the Gauchos. After 23 goals in her first year, she has followed that up with 49 and 50-goal seasons. Add that to this year's total and her 191 career goals are second only to Tiffany's 213 in the record books. The senior has a shot at the record, as UCSB has three more regular season games this week followed by the inaugural Big West Conference Tournament the following weekend.

Despite the plethora of goals, there is one goalie she was never able to score on: her sister.

"Yep, that one kind of stays with me," Morgan said.

Perhaps she will get another chance. Whitney Morgan, who is playing professionally in Madrid, is trying to get her younger sister a team to play on in Europe .

"Maybe we'll get to play together or maybe I'll get another shot at her," Morgan said, her eyes lighting up.

In the future she might get that chance, but in the meantime she's focused on adding to her UCSB total, and hopefully leading the Gauchos to a few more wins.