Sitting on a perfect 1-0 conference record, the UCSB women’s soccer team will hope to preserve its unbeaten mark as it heads on the road for two away matches this weekend first against UC Irvine, then against UC Riverside.
Both matches will prove to be a great gauge to show just what this Santa Barbara team, currently 8-4 overall, is made up of all three of the teams mentioned are tied for first place in the Big West standings with a 1-0 mark.
Currently, UCR has the best overall record of the bunch sitting at 10-0-1 on the year while UCI is just 5-5-1 overall on the year, but has had an arguably tougher schedule with three of its losses coming against Pac-12 schools including a 1-0 loss to No. 12 USC.
This season, UCSB has earned a 3-2 record away from home — 5-2 if you count neutral site matches — but has struggled against UC Irvine in recent memory losing against its Big West foe the past two seasons including a tough 4-1 loss last year in Santa Barbara.
If the Gauchos want to earn a win at UC Irvine, something the program has not accomplished since the 2005 season, then they will need to rely on offensive star Shaelan Murrison.
UCSB’s junior forward/midfielder is the Big West’s leading point-getter with 18 on the season thanks in part to seven goals and four assists, the former being a team-high mark as well.
Murrison has struggled recently, however, tallying just one assist and no scores in the last four games including going 0-17 in that same time span. Still, the Gauchos know that if the game gets close they can trust her as she does have three game-winners this season.
Additionally, UCSB will look to rely on juniors Mallory Hrmatko and Lynsee Voss.
Hrmatko, a former Big West freshman of the year, leads the team in assists with five and always has the offense playing a high pace. She also is great on the defensive side of things as she did earn a Big West Defensive Player of the Week for the week of August 27th.
Voss, a transfer from the University of San Diego a couple of seasons ago, recently earned her first Big West Offensive Player of the Week following her game-winning goal against UC Davis last season. She currently has two goals in her Gaucho career.
In order to fully secure a win against UCI then UCSB will also need to shut down its top contributors.
Sophomore Claire Grouwinkel has been the ‘Eaters top offensive player with five goals on the season. Four of her five scores have been tallied in just the last three matches.
Winners of four of their last five, UC Irvine also managed a big win to kick off conference play last week defeating Hawai’i in double overtime thanks to a game-winning goal from Reema Bzeih. The goal, along with helping the team pitch a shutout, helped the sophomore earn Big West Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Win or lose, however, UCSB will definitely need to be prepared for Sunday’s match against UC Riverside. Currently, the only undefeated team left in the conference, UCR has steamrolled its opponents outscoring them 15-2.
Riverside’s two goals allowed is by far the best mark in the conference as UCSB’s 12 goals allowed is tied for second best. Its goals-against average (.194) is also the best in the entire country comprised of 333 D-I schools.
This is thanks in part to Annie Bailey. The redshirt junior keeper has been tremendous in her nine starts allowing just the two aforementioned goals but also tallying 34 saves.
The Highlanders offense has mostly run through senior midfielder Madeline Feist who has had a tremendous season currently leading the team in points (17), goals (7) and assists (3). Her seven goals are tied with UCSB’s Murrison for most in the Big West.
Additionally, Feist has scored in each of the last two contests, including a game-winner against the University of Denver a few weeks ago.
This weekend will be very telling for UCSB. The Gauchos have missed the tournament the last two seasons despite a great start in non-conference play.
Before the big win against UC Davis, Santa Barbara had lost three of its last four and looked like it was tail-spinning heading into league. This weekend will show whether they truly have corrected their issues or will expose them against the much stiffer competition they are slated to face.
UCSB will take on UC Irvine at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 5 at Anteater Stadium. It will then face off against UC Riverside at 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 7 at the UC Riverside Soccer Stadium.
A version of this story appeared in the October 4th print edition of the Daily Nexus on page 06.