The Big West women’s soccer champion will be decided this Sunday at Irvine’s Anteater Stadiumin the 2003 postseason conference tournament.
After ending the season on a tear, the UCSB women’s soccer team (5-2-2, 10-5-4 overall) slid into the playoffs with a 4-1 victory over Utah State at Harder Stadium on Sunday. The #2 Gauchos will face off with #3 Riverside[[ok]] (5-3-1, 11-6-3 overall) in game two of the conference semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Cal Poly, who ended the season undefeated and with a record of 7-0-2 and16-1-2 overall, secured the top spot in the playoffs. The Mustangs will play #4 Irvine (4-2-3, 10-4-5 overall) at 5 p.m. The winners will battle for the coveted Big West title on Sunday at 1 p.m. and compete for an automatic bid to the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
“We’re really excited that this is really the first postseason experience that UCSB has had in over 10 years,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said.
Although Cal Poly finished the regular reason in first place with 23 points, the conference championship is still up for grabs. The conference title is determined by the winning of the Big West Tournament.
While there are only 24 women’s soccer conferences nationwide, each of which will automatically send its champion to the tournament, the College Cup will extend automatic qualifier bids to 40 additional teams to complete the 64-team tourney.
The Gauchos have had an up-and-down season and will likely need to win the Big West Tournament to snag a spot in the NCAAs.
When Santa Barbara faced Riverside on Oct. 12, the Gauchos lost 2-0 at Harder Stadium despite out-shooting the Highlanders 28-8. Friday’s match will be a rematch of sorts for the Gauchos.
“We played great, but we didn’t win,” Stumpf said. “The stats show that we pretty much dominated [against UC Riverside]. We’re really excited about getting a second chance because of the way we played last time.”
Riverside won with a dramatic tiebreaker over Long Beach State in its final game to gain entry into this year’s Big West playoffs. In their third year in the conference, the Highlanders are looking for their first Big West Championship in any sport.
“Obviously we’re very excited about getting through to the conference tournament,” Riverside Head Coach Veronica O’Brien said. “But from the start of this program we really talked about excellence, so it’s not really that big of a surprise.”
The Highlanders experienced a record-setting 11-win season this year and now have back-to-back 10-win seasons in the record books. In addition, Riverside freshman goalkeeper Tawny Poggio posted eight solo shutouts and one combined, contributing to the Highlanders’ 10 total shutouts this season.
“We train and prepare like a team that has been around awhile,” O’Brien said. “The biggest strength that we have is that we’ve been very consistent in the latter part of the season.”
UCSB enters the semifinals on a five-match unbeaten streak. Riverside was the last team to beat Santa Barbara . After the UC Riverside loss and a Cal Poly tie, the Gauchos went on to win their next four games and steel a playoff berth.
Although rain is expected this afternoon, the Gauchos understand that both teams will have to compete under the same field and weather conditions.
“Because I think we’re a little bit better than UCR, I think it would even [the level of play] out a bit,” Stumpf said.
Irvine received a huge boost of home field advantage when the conference announced that the tournament would be moved from Fullerton to Irvine due to poor field conditions.