Photo by Sarah Manley

The UC Santa Cruz women’s water polo club took first place in the Sierra Pacific Women’s Water Polo League Championship tournament this past weekend, earning a spot at the coveted national championship held at Florida State. The win was tough, but not surprising for the team.

The sun came out for the weekend tournament, which was held at the East Field House Main Pool. Matches took place all day between clubs from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Chico State, St. Mary’s College and CSU Maritime Academy. Going into the tournament, the UCSC club led their league with a 7–1 record during the regular season.

The day began early on Saturday for the Slugs, with an overpowering 14–3 victory over the UC Davis B team. Freshman coach Kelly Gentry said endurance pushed the Slugs past a strong UC Davis team.

“They [UC Davis B] always come out strong, but we have more endurance. This match was a good warm-up, especially for our younger players to just get the nerves out,” Gentry said. “We lost a lot of seniors, so it’s the younger girls taking initiative and I couldn’t be prouder as a coach.”

Going into the UCSC versus Chico State semi-final match, the Slugs planned to come out strong in the first quarter and shut the opposing team out as quickly as possible. But after three quarters, UCSC led by a slim 6–5, with their season in jeopardy.

The game became intense in the fourth quarter as UCSC and Chico State exchanged goal after goal during the last three minutes of the game. Eight goals were made between both teams in the fourth quarter alone.  With the score locked at 10–9, UCSC goalie Rachel McCracken blocked Chico State’s last shot attempt with 12 seconds to play. Clutch defensive play by the Slugs ruled the tournament.

“We had good communication on defense. Our offense executed shooting from the top line and we kept our composure,” said freshman coach Danielle Muzzini.

Muzzini said this is the first season in which the top two seeded clubs in each club league will be offered a spot at Nationals. Going into this season, Muzzini did not doubt the club would make it this far into the post season.

“I definitely expected it,” Muzzini said. “We’ve been a strong team since we’ve formed our club and our switch from the NCAA league. It put a lot of heart behind us.”

In the huddle before the championship match against the UC Davis A club team, coaches Muzzini and Gentry stressed keeping composure and maintaining control. UCSC kept pressure with their defense throughout the match, resulting in an 11–8 win. Gentry said that honing the team’s smaller details will help them peak in Florida.

“Now it’s about picking up on the little things and getting a deeper bench,” Gentry said. “That’s going to make the difference.”

After the championship match, the team huddled together, grabbed their coaches and jumped into the pool in celebration. Senior goalie Rachel McCracken, who has been playing water polo for eight years, was nothing but smiles after their league championship win.

“Our last home tournament [of the season] and for first place,” McCracken said. “It proves we’re on top.”

The Women’s Club Water Polo National Championships will be held at Florida State University on May 4–6.