SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Opening up their title defense at the Big West Championship, the No. 8 University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Wahine water polo team (19-7) defeated the No. 10 UC Davis Aggies (17-12) on Friday afternoon at the UCSB Campus Pool in Santa Barbara, Calif., 10-6. With the opening-round victory, the Rainbow Wahine advance to the semifinals to face the top-seeded No. 11 Long Beach State on Saturday afternoon.
The Rainbow Wahine were led by freshman Irene Gonzalez, who paced the ’Bows with five scores on the day to tie the Big West women's water polo tournament record for goals scored in a game. Junior Nikki-Marie Bell netted four goals for UH. Their high-scoring first and fourth quarters, respectively, fueled the Rainbow Wahine to a decisive victory.
Gonzalez gave Hawai’i the early lead with an exclusion goal at the 5:59 mark. However, UCD’s Hannah Harvey quickly countered to even the score, 1-1. Gonzalez then added two more goals, tallying a hat trick on the afternoon, and freshman Carla Abellan would net one of her own to cap off a 3-0 Hawai‘i run. The Aggies halved the lead as Allyson Hansen connected with 16 seconds left in the first.
UCD’s Bryn Lutz opened the second quarter with an exclusion goal to cut the lead to one. However, UH’s Bell quickly countered with her first goal of the afternoon to push Hawai‘i ahead, 5-3. The Aggies would again cut the lead to one, but again Gonzalez added some breathing room, netting the final goal of the period, extending the two-score lead at halftime, 6-4.
Hawai‘i couldn’t find the back of the net in the third, but with Ymane Hage in goal, the UH defense held UCD to just a single goal. The Aggies’ Greta Kohlmoos connected for her only goal of the afternoon to draw the Aggies within one going into the fourth, 6-5.
UCD’s Sammy Preston knotted the score six-all in the opening minutes of the fourth, but that’s where the tide turned.
Hawai‘i responded with a 4-0 run to create some separation. Bell quickly countered to spark the run with her second goal. Gonzalez then netted her fifth, and final goal to give UH the 8-6 lead. Bell closed out the strong finish with two consecutive goals, registering her own hat trick while pushing the Rainbow Wahine to victory, 10-6.
Hage finished with eight blocks in net for the ‘Bows.