Thinking Big Out West

Jan. 21, 2009

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

Women's Water Polo kicks off this weekend and it's a special one, as a new conference has been added to one of the fastest-growing NCAA sports. The Big West joins the women's fray this spring. With their debut adding a new excitement to the world of women's water polo, we decided to sit down with perhaps their biggest coaching name. Wolf Wigo stopped by to discuss his UCSB Gauchos who currently sit at seventeenth in the ACWPC preseason rankings. We discussed the new challenges he faces in his first season with the UCSB women and below is our interview.

The UCSB men's team has clearly established themselves as an upper echelon squad. This is evidenced by the fact that the Gauchos are one of only four teams to finish the season ranked in the top six over the past three campaigns (USC, Stanford and UCLA are the other three teams). However, the women's team you inherited had three coaches between April 2007 and April 2008. They also suffered through a sixteen game losing streak last season. Can you tell us a little bit about the challenge of building their confidence back up and establishing a stability which it seems like the program needed?

This team has been through a lot. As you said with four different head coaches in the past year - no team wants to be in that situation. This upcoming season will be a huge challenge for the players and the coaching staff for a number of reasons.

First, this is a team that went 2-21 in the final twenty-three games, which included a sixteen game losing streak. As a player or coach I have never been in a situation like that but I do know that even when you lose four or five games in a row it is very painful for the players and the coaches mentally. Add to that we will be without two of the top three scorers from last season, our starting goalkeeper graduated, and finally no recruits were brought in who will see substantial playing time this year and the picture might seem very, very grim.

Despite all this I am cautiously optimistic as the players have been training very hard and have a strong desire to show the rest of the country that they are better than the last two seasons have indicated.

This is the first year of the Big West and there does not seem to be one team that is superior to everybody else. What does UCSB have to do in order to take home the inaugural title?

It is very exciting to be moving into the Big West. I think it is great that there is not a team that can walk away with it; however Northridge, Irvine, Davis and Long Beach are all very good teams and we will have to play awesome to beat them. I think it is a great motivator that if we can get the program moving in the right direction we could be competing in the NCAA Championship every year.

UCSB will need to improve dramatically throughout the season and we will have to have great goalkeeper play to even have a chance to win the conference this season.

Can you tell us a little bit about Gillian Morgan and what makes her the player that she is?

Gillian is a natural shooter who has a very deceptive hitch to her shot. She has one of those shots that even if you know what is coming; it is still difficult to stop. I also like that she is very solid at both ends of the pool, very versatile and can play a lot of minutes.

Lizzie Rouleau seems underrated at the center position. What are you expecting out of her this spring?

Lizzie is one of the reasons that I am cautiously optimistic for this season despite the daunting challenge ahead. She did not have too much production last year but she is in great shape now and has been absolutely tearing up the training sessions during the winter break.

I think Lizzie will benefit more than the average player from the hard double day training that the team put in right after Christmas until school started. The team had never trained during this break and I hope it can make a difference with our fitness levels. Like Gillian she can play great defense while being a tremendous offensive threat.

You are obviously one of the top men's coaches in the nation; however this is your first foray in coaching women at the NCAA level. Thus far, what would you say is the main difference between coaching the two?

The women are a lot more coachable and also more willing to admit that they do not know certain things as well. We have been training hard and there have been no complaints and overall it is a much more pleasant situation than I imagined. I have a great coaching staff that is very experienced at the Collegiate Women's (Tim Settem) and Sr. Women's level (Cathy Neushul) so that makes everything much easier as well. Without having any official games yet it is a loaded question but I look forward to a hopefully exciting season that is an improvement on the previous few years at UCSB.

I noted that UCSB had six high school seniors sign Letters of Intent in December with one of those seniors being a United States National Youth Team goalie. Can you tell us a little bit about your first recruiting class?

Ruth Milne (Woodside HS/Redwood City, Calif.), Sarah Zuziak (Laguna Beach HS/Laguna Beach, Calif.), Bryce Winton (Chino Hills HS/Chino, Calif.), Kilee Dreyer (Riverside Poly HS/Riverside, Calif.), Kacey Creek (Royal HS/Simi Valley, Calif.) and Rachel Nelson (Cabrillo HS/Lompoc, Calif.) will join us for the 2009-10 season. We will likely be signing more players as well to round out the class.

Ruth is one of the top-ranked goalies in the nation for her class. Her 5-11 stature makes her an imposing presence in the goal. Her international experience playing on the USA National Youth Team will make an immediate impact on our program. Most importantly, her reputation as an ultimate team player will be invaluable to our team. Bryce comes to us with an enormous amount of water polo experience. She is a very versatile player with a powerful outside shot and she is also a dangerous threat inside. She has what it takes to play at the college level and will help the team right away. All these student-athletes can contribute to the team right away and will help to build our program in the right direction.

Most observers know Wolf Wigo from his playing days as he is one of the greatest players our country has ever produced. A three-time Olympian, Wigo was the team captain of the United States Olympic team in Athens and its leading scorer in Sydney (where he was named to the five player All-World first-team). However, we sat down with Coach Wigo because his Gauchos have a chance to be a national story in the upcoming season. Last year, the Gauchos did lose sixteen straight games and twenty-one out of their last twenty-three. If you dig deeper into those numbers though you will see that UCSB hung tough against a lot of upper echelon squads as they played San Diego State, Cal, Arizona State and San Jose State to one or two goal games in that streak. Having one of the sharpest water polo minds in the country sitting on the bench could easily turn some of those losses into wins. This UCSB team is undervalued at seventeenth in the ACWPC preseason rankings. Do not be surprised if the Gauchos sneak into the top ten by midseason.

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