After scoring 35 goals as a sophomore in 2007, Ventura native Sydney Gstettenbauer has blossomed into the primary offensive threat for 16th-ranked UC San Diego Women’s Water Polo team. Heading into this weekend’s Western Water Polo Assn. (WWPA) Championship in Los Angeles, she has racked up 75 goals, the third best single season total in UCSD history. “Offensively, Sydney’s come into her own this year and really learned how to shoot the ball,” says UCSD Head Coach Larry Sanders. “Teams have found that they have to match up and knock her down. She’s also stepped up defensively. She’s shown a lot of maturity and growth." As her junior season nears its close, Gstettenbauer talks about the her individual game and the Tritons’ WWPA outlook.
Q—Will this be the most wide open WWPA Championship in your time at UCSD?
GSTETTENBAUER—Going into the conference championship, I think that it will be the most wide open because the top four teams have all won some and lost some against each other. The top four teams are playing tough, close matches, and beating Loyola Marymount on the road two weeks ago has really increased our team’s confidence going into this weekend.
Q—What are the strengths of UCSD’s major opponents this weekend? Which is the most difficult challenge for your team?
GSTETTENBAUER—The other team’s strengths are simply that they have bigger and stronger girls. Our team this year is rather small, which has helped us in terms of speed and quickness, but might hurt us when we need that extra strength for some battles.
There are several teams capable of winning, but I think the favorite has to be UC Davis. They have a strong team with some girls that have played together for awhile. We only lost by one the last time we played, so if we keep up our strong defense and can find the back of the net, we have a good shot of being successful this weekend.
Q—What does UCSD have to do to win this weekend?
GSTETTENBAUER—We have to play smart. Most importantly we need to keep up the tenacious defense we have played these past few weeks. Other teams have capitalized on our defensive breakdowns, so if we can keep our defense strong we will be good to go.
But defense alone won’t win the championship. We need to be able to capitalize on the offensive opportunities we are given. If we keep shooting within the “3 by 10,” we will find good results. We have to play hard and “go crazy” as Larry would say. We really have nothing to lose, but everything to win.
Q—UCSD’s national success in women’s water polo came primarily in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Is the current team aware of that history?
GSTETTENBAUER—I think that some of the older girls are aware of this history and are chomping at the bit to change those recent national records this year. I know that I would love to see a more recent year in the books.
Q—What would winning UCSD’s first WWPA title since 2000 mean to the team?
GSTETTENBAUER—It would be exhilarating. We have had so many teams within the past few years with so much potential. Last year we thought was the year that it could be possible and we were so close in the semi-final game. However, this year our potential is so high and this is a huge opportunity that is pretty much right in front of us. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve started to see results from all of the hard work we’ve put in this season. If we can maintain our level of play and have the will to win, I think it is ours for the taking.
Q—In what aspect has this team improved most since last season?
GSTETTENBAUER—Our teams have always been known for good defense, and I think that this year we have continued that trend this season. This year, however, I think we have girls that are willing to shoot the ball and really want to score. In the past we have had times where we let scoring opportunities slip by and I think this year we are seeing and making the most of them.
Q—Your offensive production has increased dramatically from last year. Why?
GSTETTENBAUER—Last year before our first games began Larry told me that I was going to start. I was so excited, because I had worked so hard to prove I could be a contributor to the team. But I also had not had that much playing time in a game since high school.
Last year was my first year of seeing some real minutes, and it was tough adjusting to the college level of game play. There was also a core group of seniors that were the main contributors due to their long history of playing together. I found myself and my role as more of an assist to those girls, which worked out great. The experience from playing last year really helped and increased my confidence to want to contribute more this year. I knew that I was going to be a bigger part of the team’s offense this year and have been working hard to make things happen.
Q—Have opposing teams responded defensively to your goal-scoring numbers?
GSTETTENBAUER—Yes they definitely have. I used to play what we call the 4- spot in our 6-on-5 offense, which is typically a “left-handers” position. I was there last year as the “playmaker”, which is what I was this year too, but I also looked to shoot more. So when teams started to see I was the leading scorer they decided to just sit on me so that I couldn’t get the ball, which killed our offensive flow and plays. I also noticed that later in the season more teams started to press me on defense no matter where I was. So, I have found it hard to get the ball sometimes, and that is why I have to take any offensive opportunity I come across.
Q—This weekend could be the last for UCSD’s five seniors. What have they meant to you and the team?
GSTETTENBAUER—It is actually kind of weird because three of these seniors are girls I came onto the team with as freshmen. I feel like I should be with them, since we have been through these past four years together, so I am definitely going to miss them not just in the pool, but outside as well.
Being on any team you build a tight bond with one another along with a close friendship, so that will be missed. We have a very close team and we have had some great times together. I am definitely going to miss those five girls a lot.
Q—Talk about shot selection in water polo. What are you looking for that determines when you take a shot?
GSTETTENBAUER—I am always looking for where the goalie is not. Most of the time I am aiming for high corners, which doesn’t always happen once it leaves my hand—which oddly enough can work out sometimes. It is always kind of exciting when you make a goal when it was nowhere near where you were intending to shoot it. Corners are always a safe bet for a goal when shooting from farther away and when shooting up close I tend to like to skip it right under the goalie’s arms.
Q—What are the keys to good individual defense? Team defense?
GSTETTENBAUER—Individual defense comes from being quick, smart and aware. You need to know where you are and who you are guarding and what else you may be doing or if you can help a teammate. Having pool awareness and your head “on a swivel” really helps defensively.
Team defense requires the same exact characteristics, but you also need to incorporate communication. Just one word can make all the difference in the world. So having the constant communication on defense is key to success.
Q—In addition to swimming and playing water polo, you were also on the volleyball team at Ventura High School. That seems like an unlikely combination. What are your volleyball skills like and why did you decide to concentrate on water polo?
GSTETTENBAUER—This is actually kind of a funny story. I had played basketball and ran track and field growing up. Unfortunately, I hurt my knee high jumping and couldn’t run competitively anymore, so I needed to find another sport.
I had heard of water polo, but we didn’t have any clubs in Ventura so I went to an intro course at the local college to learn the basics. When high school came around I decided that I would try out for water polo, but it was a winter sport and I didn’t want to have to take PE in the fall so I tried out for volleyball since it was a fall sport.
I had never played volleyball in my life, but somehow made the team. It was fun and it kept my sports involvement well-rounded throughout the year with swimming as my third sport in spring quarter. Coming into my junior year I found that practices conflicted and neither coach was willing to negotiate with their practice schedules. I decided to stick with water polo because I felt it was the sport where I was better and had more skill. Lucky for me it seems to have turned out OK. Volleyball was fun and I still like to play beach volleyball, but I am definitely not the best volleyball player, which is why I stuck with water polo in the first place.
Q—What types of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
GSTETTENBAUER—What spare time? Well I of course like to sleep as much as possible because between water polo, classes and working at UCSD’s Canyonview Pool, I usually get pretty tired. I also like to hang out at the beach, watch movies, eat ice cream and lounge around with friends.
Q—What is your major and what do you plan to do with it after you graduate?
GSTETTENBAUER—I am an Environmental Systems, Earth Sciences major and of course I have no clue what I want to do when I graduate. I still have another year to think about it though!