SANTA BARBARA – The No. 8 University of Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (20-8) fell short in their bid to repeat as conference champions, upended by No. 9 UC Santa Barbara (18-12), 11-5, on Sunday afternoon at the Big West Water Polo Championship at the Gauchos’ home site, the Campus Pool.
Although the Rainbow Wahine battled back in the second half, the deficit at the break proved too much, with UH ending the weekend as Big West Runner-up.
UCSB took the early lead after Bryn Hudson connected on the first possession of the match. However, freshman Irene Gonzalez countered on a 6-on-5 play to even the score, 1-1. UCSB fired right back, connecting on consecutive possessions to extend the lead to 3-1 going into the second quarter.
The ‘Bows were unable to find their rhythm in the second. Meanwhile, UCSB continued their offensive attack, outscoring Hawai’i 2-0 in the quarter. The Rainbow Wahine were not without chances, but just couldn’t find the back of the net and chased a 5-1 deficit at halftime.
Opening the second half, the Gauchos' Samantha Murphy earned a penalty shot and extended their lead, 6-1. However, Hawai’i freshman Hannah Thompson was able to get the ‘Bows back on the board on an exclusion goal to cut the lead to four going into the final period.
Hawai’i tried to get their offense rolling in the final period, but the Gauchos exerted their defensive will and continued their offensive to keep breathing room. UCSB opened the quarter with a quick goal by Hudson, followed by a score from Miranda Schrader. Rainbow Wahine junior Taylor Molde countered with her only goal of the afternoon to bring the deficit back down to five. However, UCSB quickly launched a 3-0 run, ballooning the lead to seven. Hawai’i freshman Julia Barton and junior Nikki-Marie Bell netted the final two goals of the afternoon, but it just wasn’t enough to get over the hump as the ’Bows fell, 11-5, and UCSB earned its first program Big West title.
The ’Bows come out of the conference tournament with 20 wins for the first time since 2013 and only the third time in the last 10 seasons.
Finishing as runner-up in the conference chase, the Rainbow Wahine miss the opportunity for the Big West automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, beginning May 13 in Los Angeles. At 20-8 and ranking eighth in the latest standings, UH can still vie for an at-large bid to the tournament. The official NCAA selection show will webcast on NCAA.com on Monday, May 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET (2:00 p.m. HT).
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