In the midst of a three-game winning streak and an eight-game unbeaten stretch, the red-hot UCSB women’s soccer team will enter its final three games of the season with a conference title and playoff berth on the line.
The Gauchos (12-3-2, 5-0-1 in Big West) will face off against UC Riverside on Friday and will then travel to Cal State Fullerton for a first place showdown on Sunday.
“We’re going to have to play the best soccer we’ve played all year,” UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf said.
While Santa Barbara currently sits atop the standings in the Big West with 16 points, Fullerton and next week’s opponent Cal Poly are not giving the Gauchos any breathing room. The Titans and the Mustangs are tied for second place with 15 points but will face each other Friday as the Gauchos battle the Highlanders. Two of each of these three teams’ final three games will be played against each other meaning that any team that can win all three games will automatically clinch the conference title.
Even though Riverside (9-6-1, 3-2-1) trails the Gauchos by six points and are all but mathematically out of the race, Stumpf will not allow his team to slack against Friday’s opponent.
“We don’t want to overlook anyone in this conference,” Stumpf said. “Right now we’re concentrating on Friday, and then if we win we’ll enjoy the ride home and then train on Saturday for Fullerton on Sunday.”
The Highlanders, presently mired in a two-game losing skid, have not played since Oct. 20. The Gauchos are hoping that the 11-day hiatus will slow down freshman forward Rene Scachetti, who leads the Highlanders with seven goals and four assists. Senior Kristin Cocks and sophomore Katie Blank have split time in the goalie box for Riverside and have combined for six shutouts.
The Titans (11-3-1, 5-1-0), on the other hand, have won eight of their last 10 matches but are coming off a 2-1 non-conference loss to Fresno State last weekend. Fullerton has dominated the Gauchos in the past, beating UCSB six of the last seven times the schools have met.
However, after a tough week of training both mentally and physically, Stumpf and the Gauchos believe they are up to the challenge.
“We’ve been looking at game films and trying to figure out what we need to do to win,” Stumpf said. “We’re going to play in our system as much as we can and be offensive. We just have to play as good as we can and maybe catch a break or two.”
Friday’s match against Riverside will start at 3 p.m. and Sunday’s contest is set to begin at 1 p.m.