Following a controlled 1-0 victory against Pacific, the UCSB women’s soccer team tops off their first Big West match of the year with a one-game road trip to 3-6-1 University of Hawaii. While expectations are high for the Gauchos finishing nonconference play with a solid record of 7-3-1 Head Coach Paul Stumpf describes this beginning of conference play with “cautiously optimistic” approach.
“Conference is a different animal,” said Stumpf. “Every team starts back at 0-0-0 so the seven wins [that we won] are great for our confidence but we are starting back from scratch and going to have to work for every result.”
UCSB faced some early troubles heading into the Big West last year. The Gauchos were on a two-game losing skid after dropping matches against CSU Northridge and Long Beach before clinching their first conference win at home against none other than the Rainbow Wahine. Despite a rough start to last season Stumpf is very optimistic for this young team along with valuable veterans such as Amanda Ball and Savannah Francis coming back into the lineup.
“It’s going to be nice to have a deeper bench and more experience in our group specifically from Amanda and Savannah, Stumpf said.
Ball and Francis will be a tremendous boost to Santa Barbara’s already-sharp rotation. As a freshman, Ball started seven matches at forward for her team racking up two goals in her first two home appearances against Cleveland State and Southern Utah. Adding some well needed offensive experience, Ball will mesh well in that front line with freshman forward Mallory Hromatko and junior midfielder Sara Feder. Ball has not seen action since UCSB’s double-OT tie against San Jose State on August 28th.
Heading into her senior year, Savannah Francis will likely be a primary leader both on offense and defense for UCSB. The La Mirada, CA native was on the field in all 19 matches for her team, starting 16 of them. Francis finished the season with two goals and one assist, ironically being Amanda Ball’s first career goal against the Vikings. A gruesome foot injury has sidelined Francis for 13 games this season.
“These players coming back will likely see some minutes off the bench [this Thursday],” Stumpf said.
The Gauchos have some assignments to be aware of as they face a Rainbow Wahine team coming off a 2-0 victory at home against Brigham Young University. Sophomore Dani Crawford looks to carry the load for Hawaii leading the team with three goals and six points at the forward position. This will be a big matchup for defenders Ryan Kokoska and Sydney Fuertes to slow Crawford down and lower her scoring opportunities.
Stumpf is not only optimistic in his team’s play this weekend but also how Rainbow Wahine Stadium will fit their mode of play.
“[Rainbow Wahine Stadium] is quite nice. It’s big, flat, fast, and suits the style of soccer we want to play,” said Stumpf.
UCSB will travel to the big island this Thursday for a 10 p.m. pacific time match against Hawaii.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of October 1, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.