SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UCSB women's water polo team made history on Sunday by clinching its first ever Big West Championship after completing its historic tournament run with an 11-5 win over No. 8 Hawai'i.
"It feels like a dream," UCSB head coach Serela Kay said. "It's an exciting moment for us as a team to accomplish something that have been working towards since the beginning of the season. It's a surreal feeling."
Finishing with her third hat trick of the tournament, Samantha Murphy was named the tournament MVP.
"This whole weekend was an entire team effort," Murphy said. "We were really excited to make a footprint in the program and it's an awesome feeling to know that we did that."
A trio of seniors led the Gauchos' potent attack, as Murphy and Lauren Martin each scored a hat trick while Bryn Hudson registered a brace. Combining for the remaining three goals were juniors Taylor Shore with two scores and Miranda Schrader adding one in the team's five-goal fourth quarter.
While UCSB's offense was cruising since the opening possession, the team's defense was equally impressive through the first three quarter when they limited the Rainbow Wahine to just two goals. Mackenzie Brokaw finished with seven saves to anchor the defensive effort, while the Gauchos in the field forced many tough shots from Hawai'i.
UCSB set the tone of the game right from the start when Hudson lobbed in the team's first goals just 28 seconds into the game. With Murphy predictably winning the game-opening sprint, a series of passes eventually found Hudson at the right wing where she launched her shot that glided to the far right corner of the goal.
Hawai'i did get a response with Irene Gonzalez's score two and a half minutes later, but the Gauchos quickly got the goal back on a fast break. On the play, Sophie Trabucco stole the outlet pass at mid-pool and with a deep pass found a sprinting Martin for the skip shot finish.
The crowd erupted after that goal, and the Gauchos used their newfound momentum to score again just 32 seconds later. After a steal from Camila Schafer, Brokaw found a sprinting Shore on a deep outlet pass. Though the Gauchos had the advantage, Shore finished the play herself by beating her defender and scorching the ball past the goalie from point blank range.
Carrying a 3-1 lead into the second quarter, UCSB refused to let up and added two more goals thanks to Martin before the halftime break.
The redshirt senior dominated the inside during the period, as she first out-muscled two defenders for a turnaround look to give UCSB a 4-1 edge at the 6:31 mark. She later used her signature backhand shot to cap off her first half hat trick and increase UCSB's lead to four goals.
While Martin shouldered the offensive load in the first half, her fellow senior Murphy took the reins in the second half and scored three goals of her own, including two in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.
As conference champs, the Gauchos will receive the Big West's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, which will be hosted at UCLA starting on Friday, May 13.
UCSB will learn who they will face to open the NCAA Tournament during tomorrow's selection show, which will be broadcast on NCAA.com at 5 p.m. Santa Barbara time.