Conference season has not been what the UCSB women’s soccer team had anticipated up to this point, and as a result the Gauchos are now in the defining point of their 2017-18 campaign.
With only five Big West games left in the year, wins are a necessity now more than ever if they hope to not miss the conference tournament for the second consecutive season.
Santa Barbara is currently in the midst of its worst run of the year, managing only one win in its last 10 contests and earning a 4-6-4 record.
In conference play, the Gauchos still find themselves winless at 0-2-1, warranting them a seventh-place standing.
UCSB is coming off its best outing of the Big West season earning a 1-1 tie at Cal State Northridge; however, ties will not be enough for them to become one of the four teams advancing to the conference tournament.
That being said, Santa Barbara has a great opportunity this week with matches against Hawaii and Long Beach State to try to turn around its season.
The Rainbow Wahine hosts the Gauchos with just a 5-7 overall record and an 0-3 Big West record, notching them one spot lower in the standings in eighth, while defending Big West Tournament champions Long Beach State is on the fringe of a top-four seed with a fifth-place standing along with its 7-4-2 overall, 1-1-1 conference record.
Freshman midfielder Christine Maurer will be one player Santa Barbara can count on in these next two matches. The California native has been on fire, having scored five goals and 11 points, both second-best marks on the team, over the last nine games. She scored the team’s only goal against CSUN, resulting in the 1-1 tie.
Along with the freshman, the Gauchos will also hope for the reemergence of senior Amanda Ball.
The forward started the season hot with eight goals in the team’s first 10 matches of the season, but she has fallen flat over the last five game, having not scored and being held to just two assists.
Defenses have definitely been heavily pressuring the Chino Hills native.
Before her five-game non-scoring streak, she had kicked one through the back of the net in four consecutive outings.
Even with that, Ball’s eight goals still earns her the top spot in the Big West, along with her 18 total points. She will need to be at the top of her game against a Hawaii squad that isn’t playing great but is still capable.
Last week, the Rainbow Wahine played Big West best UC Irvine and lost 3-2, meaning they won’t be such an easy win if the Gauchos don’t come out firing.
Hawaii will hope to rely on leading scorer Sonest Furtado. The senior forward also leads the team in points (11) and assists (3).
In reality, if Hawaii hopes for an upset win over Santa Barbara, then it will need to come out strong and fast.
So far this season the Rainbow Wahine outscored 8-3 in first halves and have been shut out in six of their 13 total games.
The team will need to rely upon Furtado, but she will also need help from whoever can provide it on the offensive end.
Wahine goalkeeper Alexis Mata has been one bright spot on a defense that has given up 17 goals this season.
The junior’s 60 saves rank second best in the Big West, while her 78 percent save rate ranks fourth.
After Hawaii, the Gauchos come back home with a tough test against Long Beach State, a team that has bested UCSB in its last seven meetings.
LBSU defeated Hawaii in its conference opener 2-0 but has since struggled, earning a tie with rival UC Irvine and being knocked off by CSUF at home, where it had only lost once this season before, 2-0.
Unlike the Gauchos, whose top goal scorers rank way above the rest of the team, the Beach has scored 16 goals on the season, but no one player has scored more than three individually.
In fact, only one, senior forward Tori Bolden, has three nets this season while the next five players have two goals apiece.
This has played to the Beach’s advantage, as it has consistently found the back of the net in games, being shut out in just four contests this year, including a match against No. 18 California.
Without a doubt, this week has become the most critical for UCSB.
A slow start is not a killer, but if it bleeds into the middle of the season, then Santa Barbara has no hope of making the Big West Tournament.
With three of UCSB’s key players being seniors, chances are they will try everything they can to right the ship and go out on top in their final season.
Santa Barbara takes on Hawaii at 10 p.m. PST on Thursday, Oct. 12, at Waipi’o Peninsula Soccer Stadium. It will then host LBSU at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 15, at Harder Stadium.
A version of this story appeared on p. 8 of the Oct. 12, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus.
Jorge Mercado is the current Editor in Chief and was a Sports Editor before that since freshman year. He prefers to be called Merk as that was his nickname given to him by the gods. Sometimes, his evil twin Mork appears. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.