The Long Beach State women’s water polo team could go undefeated in conference play for the first time in school history with a pair of wins this weekend.
The 49ers (16-9, 3-0) face UC Irvine (17-10, 2-2) on the road Thursday and UC Santa Barbara (15-11, 3-1) at home to close out the regular season on Saturday. Two wins will put LBSU at 5-0 and give it the No. 1 seed going into the Big West Tournament on April 29 in Santa Barbara.
“Our whole team is pretty stoked on the idea [of going undefeated],” senior goalie Alexis Butler said. “Right now being 3-0 is already a big deal, so the next two games are really important for us.”
LBSU can get to five wins for the first time since 2005 when the 49ers went 8-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Since making the move to the Big West in 2009, LBSU has recorded a winning season in the conference just once, going 4-3 in 2013.
However, since the 49ers started competing in 1998 they’ve failed to go undefeated a single season. They’re best performance came in 2003, when they went 8-2 in the MPSF.
Advertisement – (Story continues below)
Sophomore utility Virginia Smith, LBSU’s leading scorer with 41 goals, said she will keep the pressure off the next two matches by letting go of the fact that they can be perfect in conference play.
“[Our biggest concern] is just playing like we’ve been playing all season,” Smith said. “Just maintaining the momentum.”
Butler, LBSU’s leading goalie with 552 minutes played and 126 saves, echoed her teammates’ idea of staying grounded and maintaining the same style of play the 49ers have kept all season.
“I really hope we just stick to our game and don’t try and rush or change it to keep the score close or shut them out,” Butler said. “I’m hoping that we stay together and keep each other calm to get what we want in the end.”
The 49ers’ first opponents are the preseason favorite Anteaters, who own a 19-12 all-time record and a six-game winning streak against LBSU. Sophomore utility Mary Brooks leads UCI with 47 goals and goalies Annika Nelson and Jenna Phreaner have their team allowing an average of 6.07 goals per game.
LBSU will then host the Gauchos in the last home game of the year. UCSB is sitting in second place, one game behind the 49ers with a 3-1 record in the conference. Senior center Lauren Martin, junior utility Taylor Shore and senior attacker Bryn Hudson lead the Gaucho attack to an average of 9.65 goals per game with 43, 41 and 37 goals, respectively. However, UCSB’s defense averages 8.12 goals against.
After starting the season 2-6, the 49ers rebounded by dropping just three of the next 17 games. LBSU is averaging 9.84 goals per game while allowing an average of just 6.80.
“[Our performance has been] a bit of a surprise,” Smith said. “We had a slow start, but I also expected this from this team. [My teammates] were amazing when we played together [in the offseason], [they’re] an awesome team.”
The resurrection came as a shock to some, but Butler said she knew from the start the 49ers would be at this level.
“I thought this team had a lot of potential coming in,” Butler said. “It’s the first year we’re actually set on trying to go all out. So, no, I’m not surprised at all. I’m kind of excited to see what we can pull off in the next two games.”
LBSU heads to Irvine for a match against the Anteaters Thursday at 7 p.m. before closing the regular season at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center on Saturday against UC Santa Barbara at noon.