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LBSU women’s water polo wins Big West regular season title

Senior goalkeeper Alexis Butler’s career-high 17 saves and sophomore center Emily Garczynski’s hat trick led the way to the 49ers’ first conference title.

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The Long Beach State women’s water polo team celebrates its first ever Big West regular season championship at the end of the 49ers’ 7-6 win over UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center.

The Long Beach State women’s water polo team celebrates its first ever Big West regular season championship at the end of the 49ers’ 7-6 win over UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center.

Bobby Yagake | Daily 49er

Bobby Yagake | Daily 49er

The Long Beach State women’s water polo team celebrates its first ever Big West regular season championship at the end of the 49ers’ 7-6 win over UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center.

Will Hernandez, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Long Beach State women’s water polo team claimed its first Big West title on sophomore center Emily Garczynski’s last-second shot, giving the 49ers a 7-6 win over UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center.

Although the 49ers stumbled at the beginning of the season when they faced tough non-conference opponents, they ended the season on a high note, going 4-1 against conference foes and finishing 17-10 overall. LBSU’s record against the Big West is its best since the team joined the conference in 2009 and will be the top seed in this week’s conference tournament.

“Now there is pressure because we have never gone in as a first seed,” LBSU head coach Gavin Arroyo said. “It’s unchartered territory for us and now we’ve got to see if we can deal with expectations.”

While the pressure might be on the 49ers to go deep, senior goalkeeper Alexis Butler thinks the team is where it needs to be mentally.

“That’s the difference with our team this year, we are strong mentally,” Butler said. “The focus for us next week is playing our game.”

With 14 seconds remaining and the score tied at six, the 49ers drew an ejection on UCSB (15-12, 3-2) which gave LBSU a six on five advantage. After swinging the ball around, Garczynski got it and fired in her third goal of the game as the final horn blew.

“We wanted to draw the ejection and when we got it, it’s anything goes,” Garczynski said. “When I got [the ball], I just went for it.”

Garczynski’s game-winner capped off LBSU’s come-from-behind effort, which saw the 49ers down 4-1 early. A pair of goals in the second period sliced UCSB’s lead down to one with 1:33 left in the half, but UCSB’s senior utility Lauren Martin’s late goal put the Gauchos up 5-3 going into halftime.

“The first half was looking kind of scary at first when they went up by three goals,” Butler said. “But in the second half we just had to give it everything.”

After giving up five goals in the first half, Butler held the Gauchos to one goal in the second. The senior made 17 saves in her last game at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center. Butler’s biggest save came after a UCSB outlet a pass to senior center Sarah Kreisser left the Gaucho leading scorer on a one-on-one opportunity against Butler. Kreisser’s shot had no chance against Butler who quickly corralled it.

The 49ers were able to capitalize on Butler’s sharp defense and tied the game at five with a minute to go. Garcznski netted LBSU’s third unanswered goal with 2:45 left, her second goal of the half, giving the 49ers their first lead of the game.

“The girls just hung in there and executed well,” Arroyo said. “I won’t complain about the officiating, but we got our chance at the end and we were able to score and that is the important part; taking advantage of opportunities.”

The 49ers have an opportunity to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history if they can run the table at the Big West Tournament in Santa Barbara.

LBSU advanced directly into the semifinals and will face the lowest remaining seed from the first round on Saturday at noon at the UC Santa Barbara campus pool.

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