After an off-season of rigorous training, 12 pre-season matches and eight conference contests, the UCSB women’s soccer team’s season has boiled down to one day and one game.
Tonight’s road matchup against Cal Poly will determine the champion of the Big West Conference and decide who receives an automatic berth into the NCAA postseason tournament.
“It will be the biggest game we’ve ever played,” Gaucho sophomore forward Jen Borcich said. “We know we’re a better team and we’re all willing to work incredibly hard this weekend. We’ve never really been in this position before but I think we’re expected to win and I think we’ll do it.”
Santa Barbara must win in order to move one point ahead of Cal Poly and take the conference; a tie would give both teams one point and allow the Mustangs to retain first place and the title.
The Gauchos (13-4-2, 6-1-1 in the Big West) will rely on the savvy offensive skills of Borcich and sophomore midfielder Krystal Sandza to break through the Mustangs’ formidable defense. Cal Poly (13-6-0, 7-1-0 in Big West) boasts the conference lead in fewest goals allowed with 15, and lowest goals allowed per game average of 0.79.
But the Gauchos are the owners of the most potent offense in the conference and sit atop the Big West in six offensive categories including goals and assists.
“I feel like this is one of the strongest teams I’ve had,” UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “We’ve had great results against Cal Poly in recent years and I think it’s going to be a great game.”
Cal Poly Head Coach Alex Crozier is fully aware of the threat that Borcich and the rest of Stumpf’s squad poses but is still confident that the Mustangs’ team mentality will get them over the hump.
“We’re pretty spread out,” Crozier said. “There hasn’t been one player that stands out. We’re just playing well as a team; we don’t have a Jen Borcich or a Krystal Sandza.”
But if any one player is to lead the Mustangs over UCSB, it will be senior forward Megan Schlegel, who leads her squad with eight goals and 21 points. Goalkeeper Greta Shirdon is also likely to make an impact. The junior ranks second in the Big West with a 0.80 goals against average and leads the conference with nine shutouts.
Still, Borcich and the rest of the Gauchos have been preparing all week for today’s matchup and will not be content with anything but a win.
“I would be very disappointed if we lost,” Borcich said.
The sophomore, who credits her incredible season to a rigorous off-season workout regiment, six-day-a-week training schedule, claims she has never played for a winning team. Dating back to her career with her club team, the Sacramento United Magic, Borcich has not advanced into the late rounds of any tournament.
“In high school, we won the Metro League, but we never made it far in C.I.F.,” she said. “I’ve never been on a championship team.”
Santa Barbara will look to change that for their sophomore star tonight at 7 p.m. at Mustang Stadium. An expected crowd of over 2,000 is expected to attend the contest, which will feature a trophy presentation to the champion at game’s end.
Borcich, who is the defending Big West Offensive Player of the Year and currently ranks second in the conference in points and goals, has had this game in her sights for over a year. Cal Poly recruited Borcich out of high school and the sophomore has been looking forward to facing them ever since. She would have played in the Gaucho’s 2-0 victory over the Mustangs last year had she not broken her right forearm the week before.
“Last summer I saw on the schedule that we played Cal Poly last and I got excited,” Borcich said. “I couldn’t play last year and I was really bummed about that so this year I’m really pumped. I’m just ready to go full throttle.”