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Gauchos Return to Action Hosting 2023 Winter Invite

Gauchos Return to Action Hosting 2023 Winter Invite

• 2023 UCSB Winter Invite Schedule
Tournament Central Page

No. 19 UC Santa Barbara's Opponents (6)
Campus Pool - Santa Barbara, Calif.

Friday, Jan. 20, 2023
12:00 p.m. – CSU Monterey
5:00 p.m. – Concordia
Live Stats: Game 1 | Game 2

Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023
7:00 a.m. – UC Merced

1:15 p.m. – No. 14 Indiana
Live Stats: Game 3 | Game 4

Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023
1:00 p.m. – Ottawa
4:00 p.m. – No. 3-T UCLA
Live Stats: Game 5 | Game 6

*No live stream will be available this weekend. Single-game tickets can be found on the 2023 Winter Invite page.

A New Season Begins
The wait is over for the UC Santa Barbara women's water polo team, which gets set to kick off its 2023 season with six games this weekend hosting the annual UCSB Winter Invite. This will be the first of five tournaments for the Gauchos before the start of conference play in March.

Friday's season-opening noon matchup with Cal State Monterey Bay will be the first of 14 games in just 16 days for the Gauchos, who are looking to build on the progress they made towards the end of the 2022 season.

"With the same team returning and our three super seniors leading the charge, we're just picking up where we left off," head coach Serela Kay said. "Playing nearly half of our 30-game season in the first three weekends will be a good test of character and adversity, so we're excited to get going and I think it'll provide a good foundation for the rest of the season."

Winter Invite
The Gauchos carry a No. 19 preseason ranking into this year's Winter Invite, which will take place in a single location at UCSB's Campus Pool for the first time. They will play two games a day this Friday through Sunday, opening against Cal State Monterey Bay at noon and Concordia University Irvine at 5:00 p.m. on day one. The following morning, the Gauchos face UC Merced at 7:00 a.m. before taking on their first ranked opponent of the year in No. 14 Indiana at 1:15 p.m. On Sunday, UCSB faces Ottawa at 1:00 p.m. and ends the weekend's competition with a marquee matchup against No. 3-T UCLA at 4:00 p.m.

Kay's goal for this weekend is to focus on team chemistry and cohesion, polishing and building off of the things the team did well last year to continue improving. It bodes well for the Gauchos that they have gotten out to a good start at the last three Winter Invites, compiling an 11-5 record since 2019. UCSB also owns a 7-1 record in regular season home openers under Kay. That includes a 9-8 win over No. 2 UCLA in 2020, while the only loss came at the hands of No. 4 Cal in a 9-8 overtime thriller in 2016.

Ticket links for all 27 Winter Invite games can be found here.

Super Seniors
The team is led by its "tripod" of fifth-year seniors Caitlyn Snyder, Sarah Owens and Drew Halvorson. Team co-captain Snyder – a three-time All-Big West honoree and 2022 All-American – tied for the team-lead in goals last season with 42 and accounted for exactly 25 percent of UCSB's assists with 50. Her fellow co-captain Owens is coming off a year in which she set career-highs across the board, finishing fourth on the team in both goals (31) and goal contributions (44). Halvorson, the team's SAAC representative, provides a fierce defensive mindset that brings the team together.

"All three are leaders out of the pool, and I think that's important as a role model," Kay said. "In the pool, both Caitlyn and Sarah Owens are left-handed, so they really fill a big presence on the right side in the attack. They're able to be playmakers while also stepping up and converting themselves."

"Drew is the backbone of the defense in the field and provides a lot of cohesion. She just makes everything stick in the frontcourt coming from the defensive end and also being able to contribute offensively."

Defending the Cage
UCSB's last line of defense will consist of a dynamic duo in sophomore Taylor McEvilly alongside freshman Madison Walker out of Davis, Calif.

McEvilly finished a stellar freshman campaign in 2022 ranking eight in the Big West in saves (64), ninth in saves per game (3.3) and 10th in goals against average (12.1) and save percentage (.290). She was named to the 2022 Big West Academic All-Conference and 2022 Spring ACWPC Women's All-Academic Teams.

Although she's expected to make her collegiate debut this weekend, Walker brings valuable experience to the Gauchos as a member of the US Youth National Team.

"I'm excited about our two goalies and their very different styles of play," said Kay. "Taylor ended up being the leading and starting goalie while we competed at the Big West Championship last year and did a really nice job and now has that experience under her belt. Madison brings that international experience with her and so it'll be exciting to be able to have both of them in the cage."

Big West Championship Hosts
For the first time since they were crowned Big West Champions at Campus Pool in 2016, the Gauchos will once again be hosting the conference tournament from April 28-30. Their magical 2016 run saw them defeat CSUN 8-4 in the round one, UC Irvine 7-6 in a sudden death overtime semifinal, and Hawaii 11-5 in the championship. They eventually defeated San Diego State 8-2 in the NCAA Tournament seventh place game.

"We love playing in Santa Barbara, we love the SB community and the support they bring, and the last time we hosted we won," Kay said. "I know the team talks about that and thinks about the team that was a part of that championship. They set a footprint for us, and so we're just looking to make it deeper."

Coach Kay
This will be head coach Serela Kay's ninth season at UCSB. She became the Gauchos' all-time winningest coach in 2017 and boasts a 112-91 (.552) record with the program. Under Kay's leadership, six Gauchos have earned All-American status for a total of eight selections, and 13 Gauchos have earned a total of 22 All-Big West selections. In 2016, she was named the Big West Coach of the Year, becoming the first head coach in program history to be named conference Coach of the Year. Following that season, the program had multiple All-Americans for the first time since 1999, as the Gauchos clinched their first ever NCAA Tournament berth and earned their first ever Big West Championship and NCAA Tournament wins.

2021 Recap
The Gauchos closed out the 2022 season with an 11-13 record following a nail-biting 11-10 defeat against Long Beach State in the first round of the Big West Championship in Honolulu.

Caitlyn Snyder was named an All-Big West Honorable Mention for the second straight season and was awarded a Division I All-America Honorable Mention by the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches. Sydner was also named team co-MVP, alongside Leigh Lyter, who both scored an impressive 42 goals apiece. Aside from their achievements in the pool, the team was also awarded for their dedication to their studies, setting a new program record with 15 student-athletes being named to the ACWPC Spring 2022 Women's All-Academic Team.