If you didn’t get a chance to watch the UCSB men’s lacrosse club team perform this season, you missed out on quite a show.
Santa Barbara finished its season in St. Louis as the fourth-ranked team nationally in college club lacrosse.
The Gauchos’ success started early during their regular season play, with the team compiling an 8-4 record, good for first place in the Southern Section of the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League. After rolling past UCLA in the first round of the conference playoffs, the squad traveled up to Davis to compete in the Final Four of the WCLL, a tournament that placed the two top finishers in the Northern Section against the top finishers from the Southern Section. The first-place finish in league for Santa Barbara made it the top seed from the south.
“This was definitely a cool experience for the seniors,” senior attacker Matt McClure said. “It was the first time we ever got to be at the top of our league.”
Santa Barbara faced highly touted California-Berkeley to begin their quest for the WCLL title at Davis. It was in this 10-7 decision that the Gauchos accomplished something they had not done in the past four years: they defeated the Golden Bears.
The championship game of the WCLL pitted UCSB against Northern Section power Sonoma State. In this match, Santa Barbara would try to avenge its first loss of the season, a 7-5 defeat.
Sonoma State came out of the blocks on fire, scoring the first seven goals of the game to give the squad an early boost. UCSB responded with some firepower of its own, but the rally came just a little too late and Sonoma State pulled away with a 10-7 win for a first-place finish in the WCLL.
“We obviously had a really slow start, letting them get ahead 7-0,” senior midfielder Dave Ellis said. “But we came back in the end. It was just too late.”
The runner-up finish in the WCLL translated to a #9 ranking for this Gaucho club as it headed to St. Louis to compete in the National Club Lacrosse Tournament. Santa Barbara faced the top-seeded squad from Michigan in the quarterfinals of the nationals. Instead of being intimidated by its opponent’s ranking, the UCSB did some intimidating of its own as it chewed the Wolverines up and spit them out on its way to an astonishing 10-9 defeat. Though Michigan may have had more individual standouts, the Gauchos attributed the cohesion and unity of the team as the main factor in what allowed it to prevail over the Wolverines.
“[Michigan] had a lot of really good players,” McClure said. “But we have a really good team. The reason we beat them was that we all played solid as a team. Not just one of us shined; we all played well.”
With this win over Michigan, the Gauchos were matched up against another familiar opponent from California with Stanford. With an 11-10 win over the Cardinal already under its belt from earlier in the season, UCSB was confident heading into the game, knowing that it could compete with Stanford. However, things just didn’t go that way for the Gauchos, falling in the semi-final matchup by three goals.
“Stanford’s defense played really well,” Ellis said. “There were a lot of opportunities we didn’t capitalize on, a lot of shots we missed. But they played a good game.”
After heading into nationals as the #9-ranked team, a win over Michigan and a strong effort against Stanford, the Gauchos soared through the rankings to the #4 spot.
“We are definitely proud of our season,” Ellis said. “Of course we were disappointed with our loss [to Stanford], but in all we had a really good season. We had never made it that far before, so it was nice to go out on this note.”
Though UCSB began the season with a four-game winning streak, the Gauchos were encountering a slight struggle learning how to play as a cohesive unit with each other. Many first-year players were relied on for their service in pivotal roles on the team after the departure of seniors from the year before. But by the end of the season, the Gauchos were playing their best lacrosse of the year.
“We were having some problems at the beginning of the season, but we were really playing well at the end of the season,” junior midfielder Cameron Ahler said. “Our defense was young, but they definitely stepped it up in all aspects of the game.”
The future is looking bright for the Gauchos, and the team hopes to duplicate, if not surpass, the feats they attained this year for next season. UCSB has the personnel to do so, returning its two top point scorers. Sophomore Ben Schooler scored a team-high 41 points with 16 goals and 25 assists, good for the 20th spot in WCLL statistics, while freshman Hank Caulkins, scored 38 points on 27 goals and 11 assists. The Gauchos will be losing, however, a solid group of seniors.
“We will definitely feel the impact from the guys we lose this year,” Ahler said. “Next year should be interesting to see how we adjust, but we have a lot of solid returners coming back and a lot of high quality recruits coming in, so we will have the potential to do well.”