Last weekend, UC Santa Cruz was host to a series of club-league women’s water polo games as the Slugs were sent to do battle with several teams, including rivals UC Davis and UC Berkeley.
UCSC opened the weekend with a tough loss against the Davis A team 8-5, a team that UCSC head coach Brian Fischl considers to be a big opponent.
“They’re our biggest rival, definitely one of the better teams here today along with Cal Berkeley,” Fischl said.
Team president Nila Ward was hopeful that the weekend was not lost.
“It was pretty rough — we were really amped for that game because we were basically playing for the first-place seed, which I think we can still end up with by the end of this weekend,” Ward said.
The team bounced back with a commanding victory over Davis’s B team 16-5 later in the day.
“This last game was really great, we got all of our players in — it was an easier team though, too,” sophomore Laura Rudolph said. “A lot of different people scored goals, and it gave us a chance to work on our plays and get our shots in.”
However, Rudolph knew that the team shouldn’t become overconfident.
“You never know how the game is going to be. You’ve just got to go in and play your hardest, and have to work for it,” Rudolph said. “We can’t get cocky.”
The team continued its dominating streak into Sunday, defeating both CSU Maritime and CSU Fresno handily by scores of 14-1 and 13-2 respectively. Overall, UCSC finished tied for first with UC Berkeley and UC Davis, a result that didn’t surprise many considering that the women’s water polo team used to be an National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III team on campus, but was cut by the athletic department due to budget constraints.
Head coach Fischl, who played for the men’s water polo team for three years before it was cut, says the difference in play between NCAA and club level can easily be distinguished.
“It’s almost a night-and-day difference between the game, the speed, the pace, the overall competitiveness of it — at the club level [it’s] a lot less significant,” Fischl said. “At the NCAA level every team is looking to win. It’s serious.”
Senior Kelley Gentry has seen the team play at both levels and also noted the differences.
“It’s a lot different — we’re student-run now, we organize all the tournaments and all the games, and the level of play is so different,” Gentry said. “There are a lot of dirty moves in the water that you wouldn’t normally see as much at the NCAA level.”
Gentry also said that there are certain expectations that come with being a former NCAA team.
“I feel like a lot of teams are really gunning for us because we’re ex-varsity — we kind of walk around and wonder ‘Why does everybody hate us?’” Gentry said, and laughed.
The team members are looking to push themselves with their next games, taking place at a tournament at the University of Pacific (UOP). Fischl looks forward to seeing his team be challenged by the NCAA teams.
“We are going to go play a couple of NCAA teams at UOP in two weeks,” Fischl said, “which will give us a taste of what it’s like to play a more competitive team, because despite us being a club team we’re still good enough to be a Division III team.”
Meanwhile, Gentry believes the team has what it takes to continue their winning ways.
“We have a talented team, and it’s nice to think that we’re number one, but we do have to keep working at it,” she said. “But I absolutely believe that we’ll be number one by season’s end.”