Christine Maurer fights a defender for possession of the ball. Stephen Manga/Daily Nexus

The last road games of the season lie ahead for the UCSB women’s soccer team this week, who will be looking to make a late surge in the Big West standings.

The Gauchos currently sit in seventh place with a 1-3-1 conference, 5-7-4 overall record and trail the first-place team UC Irvine by nine points.

“Our girls completely understand the situation we are in,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “We understand we are basically in a playoff situation, so we don’t want to push any harder than we have all year. The girls have been playing beautifully, they have been tactically sound, there’s just been a lack of execution in critical moments so hopefully, we can take what we learned against Long Beach and apply it over the next few weeks.”

The Gauchos will try to keep up the same level of play that led them to their first conference victory against Long Beach State last Sunday.

There were plenty of positive aspects that UCSB can continue to build on from the 3-0 win, including the increased productivity from senior forward Amanda Ball, who leads the Big West in goals (10) and points (22).

From a team perspective, the Gauchos are coming off an aggressive defensive performance. Despite receiving three yellow cards against LBSU, it still resulted in a stifling defensive effort on Santa Barbara’s end.

UCSB hopes to continue to translate their aggressiveness to victories in their games this week against UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton.

The upcoming game against second-ranked UC Davis will be a great opportunity to gauge just where the Gauchos are in terms of their ability to play with the top teams in the conference. The Aggies are an anomaly at the top of the Big West. They actually have the worst overall record (4-9-1) by a large margin but have remained unbeaten (3-0-1) in conference play so far.

“Davis is a tough place to play and they have got some serious momentum going being undefeated in conference so hopefully Sunday’s win was the start of something that could get us going,” Stumpf said.

The key for UCSB is going to be taking advantage of a Davis defense that has been good at times but overall very porous this year. The Aggies have given up 1.14 goals a game while scoring .71, and they have conceded nearly twice as many shots as they have taken. These stats indicate a great chance for an offensive explosion by a UCSB squad that has only been held scoreless twice this year.

Another focal point for the Gauchos is going to be coming out strong in the first half, something that they really haven’t had success doing this year. Two factors that play into that are the fact that a strong opening half is vital in taking away any home field advantage, as well as the fact that UC Davis, in particular, is a very strong second-half team.

Seven of the 10 goals that the Aggies have scored this year have been in the second half, and they’ve let loose 50 percent more shots in the second half than in the first. If UCSB is able to set its tempo early on in the game and maintain pressure on the Aggies’ defense, they should be in a good position to win this game.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s matchup against Cal State Fullerton, the Gauchos will go through their toughest test yet. Although Fullerton is fifth in the Big West, it has the best overall record (9-3-3) in the conference. The Titans have been offensive juggernauts this year, averaging two goals a game and scoring three or more goals in five games this year.

Leading the way for Fullerton this year is senior forward Sarah Fajnor, whose offensive output ranks among the top players in the league.

She comes into this game second in the Big West in goals (6) and third in assists (4) and leads her team in both categories. A big part of the Gauchos’ defensive game plan will surely be to stifle her performance and try to force another player to beat them, but that is usually easier said than done.

These last two road games will make or break UCSB’s season, as the Gauchos actually have a chance to make the Big West tournament if they play well and catch a few lucky breaks in terms of other teams’ performances.

There should be no lack of effort on their part in these final few games of the season, and if the Gauchos steal a couple of victories, then a conference tournament appearance will certainly be in reach.

UCSB faces off against UC Davis at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Aggie Soccer Field. The Gauchos’ season continues with its penultimate match of the year against Cal State Fullerton at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22 at Titan Stadium.

A version of this story appeared on p. 9 of the Oct. 19, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus.

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