SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara women's water polo team held its annual alumni game this past Saturday, bringing together some new faces with Gauchos of the past and present in the current team's first public showing ahead of the upcoming 2019 season.
"It's really exciting to have everyone come out," said head coach Serela Kay. "This year and every year, we have representatives from every generation, which is amazing to see. And they gave us a good game, too."
The impressive spectrum of alumni in attendance ranged anywhere from recently graduated members of the team all the way to women from the very first UCSB club team, before the current varsity program even existed.
"Just really honored and privileged that we have so much support from the alumni," Kay said. "They're a big piece of our journey and our success, and it's important to recognize that."
Eager to show their predecessors what they're capable of, the current Gauchos jumped out to a 9-2 first half lead, which a resilient alumni side would eventually cut to 11-7 in the second half. The 2019 squad would have the last laugh though, scoring the final three goals en route to an 18-9 win.
While the game has no bearing on the upcoming season, Kay still focused on the positives from seeing her team in action for the first time.
"The alumni game is the first time that we get to play a game against someone other than ourselves," Kay said. "We grind against each other every day, so we look forward to this day in the fall."
Kay's Gauchos are coming off a 2018 campaign in which they went 16-13 overall and 2-3 in the Big West. They are just two years removed from what is considered the best season in program history, when in 2016 they knocked off No. 8 Hawaii 11-5 to claim their first ever Big West Championship, NCAA Tournament berth, and conference Coach of the Year award.
Last year, UCSB started the season at 7-3, good for the best opening month since Kay took over the team in the summer of 2014. While championship aspirations probably won't be in full throttle for a while with January's season-opening UCSB Winter Invitational still a couple months away, last Saturday's exhibition served as a worthy tune-up as the Gauchos look ahead to their lone preseason tournament at the UC Irvine Fall Invite in two weeks.
"That's the goal," Kay said of seeking another Big West crown. "We talk about it, but right now we're focusing on creating good habits and knowing that the little things make big things happen. Just focusing on the process."
"We have a lot of new faces this year, we're still putting the pieces together. In two weeks we'll go to Irvine, and we'll have four games there. It'll be fun to play somebody else and see where we're at."
UCSB's regular season is set to begin with its annual home tournament at Campus Pool from Jan. 18-20, 2019.