It is no secret that UC Santa Barbara is not a typical college sports powerhouse. Our location, combined with our party reputation and lack of a football team, make for little hype surrounding our college game days. While game days are a staple source of school spirit at other big schools, UCSB has yet to see similar excitement over sports in quite some time. With so many teams on the rise this upcoming year, we want to provide both incoming freshmen and returning students with a guide of what to look forward to and, hopefully, work toward cultivating a stronger, more unified sports culture here on campus.
UCSB can become a strong sports school in the future — we know this because we have seen glimpses of greatness in the past. Early footage from the 90s of the men’s basketball team facing #2 UNLV in the Thunderdome paints a very different image of our school than recent years. The palpable energy and electricity which gave the Thunderdome its name has yet to reach the same level as in the past, but our 2018-19 men’s basketball team might just have the power to turn the tide.
Star junior guard Max Heidegger (ranked second in the Big West after scoring 19.1 points per game last year) and the Gauchos are aiming for success — not just in the Big West, but on a national scale. While attendance was good last year, this year could and should be historic in terms of on-court production and off-court support. Head coach Joe Pasternack and various players on the team consistently pressed the point last season that their team feeds off the home crowd’s energy more than anything else, and their 12-2 home record backs that up. It’s up to us Gauchos to make the Thunderdome into a place that our opponents do not feel confident playing in.
One of the strongest, most consistent sources of school spirit is our blue-green rivalry with Cal Poly SLO, and nowhere is that more apparent than with our respective men’s soccer team. Other than the fact that in the last decade the matchups between SLO and UCSB here at Harder stadium have drawn five of the largest NCAA regular season crowds in history, the pride, and tortilla throwing, makes these games a hallmark of the UCSB experience.
Forwards Noah Billingsley and Rodney Michael were both selected for the preseason All-Big West team, and it looks like UCSB will have one of the most dynamic offenses in the conference.
The preseason coaches poll also had the Gauchos coming in second in the Big West this year, and although Cal Poly was last, they always seem to find a way to make the rivalry games interesting. If there is one sports event to show up to this year, it is the clash between these two squads here on October 27th, so make sure to stock up on tortillas far in advance.
The last major storyline this upcoming year will be surrounding the continued dominance of junior volleyball standout Lindsey Ruddins. In the first half of her career here as a Gaucho, Ruddins has proved to be one of the most dominant forces in the country. Her accolades include the Big West Player of the Year award, AVCA All-American status and, most impressively, top in the country in kills per set last year with a whopping 5.84 per game. She literally changes opposing teams’ game plans by herself, and we are lucky enough to have her on the UCSB women’s volleyball team. It is rare to see a talent of that magnitude in any sport at any school, and as she heads into the latter half of her career here, the opportunity to see her will be gone before you know it. Do yourself a favor and get to a game before that time comes.
These definitely are not the only interesting storylines going into the new school year. All of our Club and Division I sports teams are intriguing and exciting in their own way, and, although we aren’t a typical sports school, there is a niche for everyone here. A huge part of college is exploration, and sports are just another avenue for that. Whether it be going as a fan, playing intramural or even covering them for an article, showing our enthusiasm for UCSB at sports games is what taking pride in being a Gaucho is all about.
Omar Hernandez currently serves as the Sports Editor. His passions are understanding the various links between sports and culture and watching the Warriors dominate the NBA.