After winning the Big West Championship in 2001 the UCSB men’s soccer team was psyched to get a shot at the rest of the collegiate squads at the NCAAs. Ten months later, the Gauchos are still waiting for that shot to prove their talent to the rest of the country.
Last season’s bittersweet snub by the NCAA selection committee left a sour taste in the mouths of the returning Gauchos. As a result, Santa Barbara has thundered its way to a 5-0 record this season and is ranked No. 4 in their region by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Also, last week College Soccer News ranked Santa Barbara No. 20 nationally, the best ever in the program’s existence.
“We definitely want to show the committee that we are for real,” senior midfielder Dan Young said. “We talk about it before every game.”
The Gauchos’ success comes off an impressive sweep of the competition at the Nike Classic Tournament in St. Louis, Mo., held Sept. 14-16.
After missing their connecting flight in Denver, the Gauchos arrived in St. Louis just two hours before their first match of the tournament. Not even jetlag could slow down UCSB in their first game as the Gauchos dismantled James Madison 3-1. Santa Barbara received goals from junior midfielder David McGill and senior forward Rob Friend. Junior forward Gene Deering added another goal after coming off the bench. James Madison actually jumped out to an early lead, scoring on a strike by senior defender Christopher Pitt just three minutes into the game. However, the Gauchos never folded, rattling off three straight goals to advance to the finals.
“They scored an early goal and I was having a tough time finding my rhythm,” Deering said. “But Dan Young gave me a great ball that I finished, which gave me more confidence for the rest of the game.”
Advancing to face Southwest Missouri State in the finals, Santa Barbara relied on two early goals from Friend and Deering to put them ahead. In the 61st minute sophomore forward Drew McAthy struck the back of the net on an awarded penalty kick to put the Gauchos up three. Sophomore midfielder Jon Apilado capped the scoring by adding a goal at 87:46 off an assist from junior midfielder Matt Kubota. SMSU scored its only goal on a shot by freshman defender/midfielder Matt Siegel after UCSB failed to clear from its defensive zone.
Friend, the returning Big West Co-Player of the Year, headed a class of Gauchos recognized for their play. After scoring his fourth and fifth goals of the season, Friend joined Deering, junior midfielder Memo Arzate and freshman defender Alan Keely on the All-Tournament team.
“I’m just trying to help the team win,” Friend said. “In tough games, I want to be the guy that can get our team the goal we need to win.”
Santa Barbara headed to Lansing, Mich., to compete in the Michigan State Classic Sept. 1-2. The Gauchos downed Michigan 5-3 and Michigan State in double overtime to capture the title and jump out to a 2-0 record.
The Gauchos also impressed in their home opener against St. Mary’s on Sept. 6. Freshman goalkeeper Kyle Reynish had two saves in a 6-0 shutout of the Gaels. Reynish, making his first start for sophomore regular Danny Kennedy, handled duties nicely. Kennedy got the boot with a red card against Michigan State.
UCSB will lock horns with Westmont on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium.