The Cal Poly women’s lacrosse club team does not shy away from competition.

The Mustangs, in search of their eighth consecutive Women’s Division Intercollegiate Associates National Championship, will take on UC Santa Barbara in the WDIA semifinals today in Denver.

Cal Poly senior midfielder Kaitlin Chandler, a co-team captain and All-American Second Team member, said the Mustangs don’t mind being perceived as the team to beat.

“I know our team is really pumped because this year there’s been a lot of talk by other teams and coaches that are psyched to beat us,” she said. “They think they’ll take our title from us because we have such a young team, but we’re ready to prove them wrong again.”

Five of the seven times Cal Poly has won, it was considered the underdog, Chandler said.

This year, since UCSB won a final league tournament, it received an automatic bid to nationals. Cal Poly received an at-large bid as the tournament’s fifth seed.

This year, the top-seeded Gauchos have been the Mustangs’ biggest rival, said senior defender and co-team captain Jaime Oetman, also an All-American Second Team honoree.

“They are undefeated – we lost to them in double overtime by one point in our league finals,” she explained. “They’re a good team, but we’re right there.”

Chandler also voiced confidence in the Mustangs’ chances.

“They have always been a rival over the years, but in the past, we’ve beaten them when it counts at nationals,” she said.

Chandler said the Mustangs’ strategy will remain much the same throughout the tournament.

“We just like to play our style no matter the opponent because we know that we can beat them,” she added. “Our zone defense is really strong because no other team plays zone.”

Cal Poly advanced to the semifinals by routing 12th-seeded Michigan State 16-5 Wednesday and upsetting No. 4 seed Michigan 11-5 Thursday.

Over the years, the Mustangs have had many coaches, but they say their commitment has kept the program strong.

“It’s a player-run program,” Chandler said.

Oetman, who explained that the Mustangs fund themselves and drive themselves to games, agreed about the reasons for the team’s success.

“It’s amazing, honestly, that we’ve won seven years in a row just because that doesn’t happen for teams that do everything themselves,” she said.

Chandler said many actually come to Cal Poly after hearing how successful the team has been.

“Even though it is only a club, we’ve been so successful on the West Coast that it’s an attraction for players,” she said.

Key to Cal Poly’s run has been its consistent ability to rise to the occasion, Oetman stressed.

“If we play well, which we tend to during nationals, we’ll be in the finals,” she said. “There’s just something that clicks for our entire team, and we step up and perform to the best of our ability.”

The winner of the Mustangs-Gauchos 2:30 p.m. match-up will take on the winner of the first semifinal, played two hours earlier between No. 2 seed Colorado State and No. 3 seed Colorado. Saturday’s championship will begin at noon.

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