The Gauchos hope to survive their trip into the desert this weekend.
The #2 men’s lacrosse team will put its undefeated season on the line Friday when it travels to Tempe, Ariz. to take on Arizona State. The Gauchos will then head to Tuscon on Sunday for one of the most highly anticipated Western Collegiate Lacrosse League matches of the year against the University of Arizona.
UCSB is riding a winning streak that includes victories against three top-10 teams, including a win over its latest victim #3 Sonoma State at the Pit on Feb. 21. Santa Barbara beat SSU 8-5 in a mud-soaked rematch of 2003’s WCLL championship game. UCSB’s three-point victory against Sonoma was the closest since beating #4 Brigham Young 10-8 earlier this season.
“[Sonoma] had been saying all along that our win last year was a fluke,” senior midfielder Scott Holmes said. “They were coming here for revenge, so it was great to finally beat them on our field. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that.”
Junior attack Luke Wilson led UCSB with two goals and two assists, and senior captain Hank Caulkins notched three goals in the win. After Wilson opened up the scoring, SSU captured its only lead of the game after two quick goals. Caulkins tied it up with 3:15 left in the first quarter and Sonoma was forced to play catch-up the rest of the way. The real dagger in the heart was when the Gauchos closed the half with a well-executed set play that allowed Wilson to hit junior midfielder Stefan Isaksen midstride deep in Sonoma’s zone. Isaksen’s goal gave UCSB a 6-3 lead and momentum going into the second half. Junior goalie Ryan Brittain, who is en route to another All-American season, recorded 19 saves.
The Gauchos also won big in the two weeks prior to their showdown with Sonoma, demolishing Stanford14-4 and Division II Notre Dame de Namur 11-6. Wilson and Caulkins led the scoring in the win against the Cardinal with six and four points, respectively. Sophomore attack Steve Christensen exploded for four goals and an assist against NDDN in a performance strikingly reminiscent of his spectacular play against BYU.
After last week’s game against USC was rained out, the Gauchos are well-rested for their trip to Arizona. They will open up conference play against the Sun Devils, who have surprised many this season with their strong play. The showdown against the Wildcats will be the highlight of the trip, though. Arizona’s only loss this season came at the hands of defending national champ Colorado State. Santa Barbara will roll in with lots of reasons to be confident, having made it through the first part of one of the toughest schedules in the nation unscathed, but a stumble here could cost UCSB the WCLL crown.
The Gauchos’ winning streak further emphasizes the shift in the balance of power in the WCLL, which is easily the nation’s best league. Until last year’s league championship game, UCSB had never beaten powerhouse Sonoma. That win would catapult the Gauchos to the United States Lacrosse Intercollegiate Associates championship game against Colorado State and onto the national stage. Many have wondered how the loss of National Coach of the Year Scott DeMonte would affect Santa Barbara, but new UCSB Head Coach Mike Allan has answered the uncertainty and has guided the Gauchos to an undefeated 6-0 record.