If success comes in steps, the UCSB women’s soccer team should be on top of the Big West Conference before too long.

The Gauchos, who wrapped up their 2002 campaign on Nov. 8 with an overall record of 13-5-2, improved on their previous season’s record for the fourth consecutive year.

Had it not been for a loss in its season finale, Santa Barbara would have clinched its first ever Big West title and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993.

“Everyone, including myself, was just really surprised that it was over,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said of his team’s abrupt season finish.

UCSB ended up in second place in the Big West but battled for the title until the season’s last day when they came up short against Cal Poly, the eventual champions.

Still, the individual accolades rolled in for the Gauchos soon after the playing season came to an end.

Sophomore midfielder Krystal Sandza was honored as the Big West Offensive Player of the Year, after setting a new conference record for goals with 25. Sandza, a First Team All-Big West selection in 2001, also pushed her way up to fourth on the Gauchos career goals list and ranks third on the UCSB all-time single season list. She also became the first Gaucho to rack up 50 points since 1987. Sandza, however, said the decision to trade in the award for a conference championship would be an easy one.

“The individual awards are not the goals of the season,” Sandza said. “Team goals are pretty much all that matter.”

Fellow Gauchos sophomore forward Jen Borcich and senior midfielder Jen Codington were named First Team All-Big West selections, while freshman midfielder Kristyn Bright, freshman defender Katie Cooper and junior midfielder Emilee Schwimmer received honorable mention.

For Codington, who was a 2001 Second Team selection, the honor took her by surprise.

“I wasn’t expecting it all,” she said. “I was really shocked, but it was definitely exciting.”

According to Stumpf, Codington carried a large load for Santa Barbara in 2002 and will be sorely missed.

“Jen was an engine for us this year,” Stumpf said. “Her incredible skill and vision made us so much better. In my estimation, she’s flying under some kind of lucky star. She’s special, she’s a born leader.”

Besides Codington, the Gauchos will lose four other seniors. Goalkeeper Blythe Curran, midfielder Beth Ramos, midfielder Erica Perrotta and defender Katie Wilson have also played their final game for UCSB.

“They come into your life for four years and, if they can put up with you, you know they have strong character, because we’ve pushed them pretty hard,” Stumpf said of his seniors.

For the last four months, the squad had been pretty much inseparable. Beginning with a three-day “bonding experience” at Midland School in Santa Ynez, where the team did everything from practice to play charades, the Gauchos played 20 matches in 76 days. Among Stumpf’s selected season highlights were an incredible 1-0 overtime victory against Pacific and a record-breaking five goal performance by Sandza.

“This team was above and beyond the teams of previous years, skill and personality wise,” Codington said. “It’s just too bad we lost that game.”