Of the 19 Division-I NCAA sanctioned sports on the Santa Barbara campus, the UCSB women’s soccer team will be the first returning to the field of play as it hosts two exhibition matches at Harder Stadium this week beginning with Westmont on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and North Texas on Saturday at the same time.

“We are going to see two different styles from these two teams and this is good since we will face different styles all season,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “We can use this as a learning tool to help learn from mistakes and really take this team to the next level in different areas. We are hopeful in the next 4-6 games we get some good experience and we will see where we go.”

The Gauchos will be looking to shake off the rust from a season ago which saw them miss postseason play despite beginning the season 8-0 overall, their first time accomplishing such a feat since 1992. After the fast start, Santa Barbara would go 3-6-2 over their final 11 matches to finish the year 11-6-2 overall and 2-5-1 in conference play earning them a sixth place finish.

“That 8-0 start probably won’t happen again,” Stumpf said. “We caught a lot of breaks early in that 8-0 start and it felt like we didn’t catch any in the last few games. But I do think it was a great experience for us to recognize we have to take one game at a time, every game is this individual entity we have to prepare for and really be opportunistic when those breaks present themselves.”

Regardless of the finish last year, Santa Barbara is poised to compete for a chance at the Big West crown again due to minimal losses from a season ago, returning vets and key freshman that hope to come in and contribute right away.

In terms of losses, the Gauchos are only replacing three athletes that received significant playing time in Sydney Fuentes, a first team conference letter-winner, Dakota Griggs and Savannah Francis. Even with these players lost to graduation the Gauchos return many key players integral to the Gauchos great play last year. The list of these returners is headlined by senior forward Amanda Ball.

Ball became a breakout star last year scoring 10 goals for UCSB, the first double-digit scorer for the program since 2005. During the eight-game winning streak, the Chino Hills native scored seven goals including her first hat-trick against Fresno St. in the teams’ season opener.

Senior forward Amanda Ball. Nexus File Photo

Last year, Ball also received First Team All-Big West and All-Far West honors along with 21 total points. She missed the final two games of the season with an ankle sprain, however, she seems to be fully healthy heading into this new campaign.

“10 goals are a great accomplishment for anybody,” Stumpf said. “But the last thing I want is her thinking she has to score 10 goals. She has to take everything one at a time. But she has looked really good in this first week as far as her maturity level, her ability to maintain possession and her finishing. She isn’t the typical vocal leader but she leads by example.”

Ball will most likely not receive much playing time in these two exhibition matches, but Gaucho fans will definitely be awaiting her play come the season opener come August 18.

Other notable returners include sophomore Mallory Hromatko who was tied second on the team in goals (4) and points (10), and seniors Kate Shoemaker, an experienced defender, and Chace Schornstein who has started in 56 out of 57 games in her time as a Gaucho.

Of course, it wouldn’t be exhibition matches without key matchups to look out for and new freshman to admire in their fresh UCSB jersey, especially with the depth that this new team has.

“There are about five spots that are really up for grabs. Outside of Chace, Kate, Amanda, Mallory, everybody else really will be in competition. We like the depth of this years’ team but we are kind of a smaller team and we will need to make adjustments when we face those big, physical direct playing teams.”

“There are three [freshman] that really jump out at us. First being Christine Mauer, a really good finisher near the goal who I expect will get good minutes up front. Cate Post, a player who could play different positions for us and really earn significant minutes and Belinda Ascensio, who has not joined the team yet due to a family emergency, however, when she comes in and as long as she passes the fitness exam, we expect her to make an impact.”

As for the two teams the Gauchos will be facing, Westmont, a Division-II program, was defeated by UCSB in last years’ exhibition but played excellent posting a 16-4-2 overall record losing in the second round of the NAIA National Tournament.

North Texas also had a great season in 2016 going 15-5-1 with a 9-1 conference record but did not receive a NCAA bid last year despite the accolades after losing in the C-USA conference tournament final. Had it won, NT would’ve repeated as conference champs and would’ve been awarded the automatic NCAA bid. The Mean Green were voted No. 1 in the leagues preseason poll to win their third straight C-USA regular season championship.

UCSB begins its exhibition season against Westmont tonight at 7 p.m. and will face North Texas on Saturday at 7 p.m. with both games being played at Harder Stadium. Follow @DailyNexSports for updates on both these games as well as all things Gaucho sports.

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