The UCSB women’s soccer team attacks #6 Pepperdine University at 7 tonight at Harder Stadium in a nonconference battle between two rising California powers.

The Gauchos (6-3-3, 1-1-1 in the Big West), hot until a 1-0 loss against Long Beach State and 1-1 tie versus Irvine last weekend, will try to tame one of the premier programs on the West Coast and in the nation – the Waves. The girls from Malibu storm into tonight’s battle, poised with a 9-2-0 record and feature one of the best offensive lineups in the country. Ranking second in the West Coast Conference in goals with 26, the Waves knocked off perennial powerhouse Stanford earlier this season. Through 11 matches this season, Pepperdine has outscored their foes by a 26-4 margin, recording eight shutouts.

“It’s going to be an awesome game,” Pepperdine Head Coach Tim Ward said. “I have so much respect for the Gaucho team.”

The Waves are familiar with Big West teams in 2003, already posting wins over Irvine and Fullerton. Last Friday during Pepperdine’s win over Fullerton, sophomore midfielder Kelsey Quane notched a goal off a cross from sophomore forward Megan Woods to secure the only goal. Lately, the Waves have relied on their stifling defense to sit on close leads. Holding opponents to a 0.36 goals-against average, Pepperdine has held seven of its last nine opponents to shutouts.

The Santa Barbara and Pepperdine programs have followed the same path over the past few seasons to assure a prominent place in the West Coast soccer hierarchy. UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf, in his fifth season at UCSB, has made successful strides in bringing back the reputation of UCSB women’s soccer that shined in the early 1990s. Ward took over at Pepperdine six years ago and understood that both programs would have the potential of turning into powerhouses with both the academic reputation and the luxuries of beach weather. It seems as though both schools are going in the same direction – upward.

“I’m a big fan of Paul [Stumpf] and [Associate Head Coach] Mike [Friesen] and the program,” Ward said. “We both kind of came into the head coaching ranks together. He’s getting the right kids and turned the program around.”

While both schools have profited from their recruiting efforts, UCSB and Pepperdine have strengthened their schedule to continue the improvement process and prepare each squad for the postseason. The Big West Conference is much stronger than in years past, which adds to the heightened level of soccer on the West Coast.

“This year the Big West has definitely taken steps in the right direction,” Ward said. “But to be considered for postseason recognition you need to prove yourself in your strength of nonconference schedule and UCSB has done that.”

The Waves may have a disadvantage this evening under the lights. Pepperdine is consistently strong at home, posting a 10-0-0 record at Tari Frahm Rokus Field in 2002. The Waves do not play home night contests as their field does not have lights. The Gauchos understand the advantages that home field will bring.