UCSB is the best in the Big West.
Santa Barbara earned its fourth consecutive Big West Conference Commissioner’s Cup, recognizing its overall dominance in league competition for the 2003-04 academic year.
“We have a very hardworking group of student athletes and coaches who really want to take pride in what they do in representing our university,” Assistant Media Relations Director Ben Alkaly said.
The Commissioner’s Cup encompasses all UCSB athletic teams with the exception of men’s and women’s water polo and men’s volleyball, which are Mountain Pacific Sports Federation-sponsored programs.
Of the 10 Big West universities, Santa Barbara accumulated 2210 total points to average 138.1 points per program. Long Beach State placed second with an average of 120.0 points per program.
“I think that one of the best things about the Commissioner’s Cup is that it gives all the sports here a way to pull together and accomplish something,” women’s basketball Head Coach Mark French said. “This is a way for all of our sports to feel like they are contributing.”
Four Gaucho teams finished atop the Big West, with 11 additional programs finishing fourth or higher. In the fall, women’s cross country and women’s volleyball both took first place in the conference with men’s cross country, men’s soccer, and women’s soccer all finishing second. Men’s swimming reclaimed its 25th Big West crown in program history and women’s basketball continued its reign with its ninth consecutive title.
UCSB’s high level of play can be attributed to Santa Barbara’s attractiveness to high-caliber athletes in both athletics and aesthetic.
“This is a great school,” French, a 1973 alumnus, said. “The things that attracted me here make it very attractive to get some of the best athletes in the country.”
Despite the fact that UCSB is a relatively low-budget Division I-AAA program, a school without a football team, the Athletics Dept. has been able to create a strong foundation for a number of programs to build on.
“Now, more and more of our sports are building a big reputation athletically,” French said.
Such a foundation starts with a group of coaches who have spent the majority of their careers in Santa Barbara.
“The fact that a lot of our coaches are alumni makes them work that much harder,” Alkaly said.
Men’s golf Head Coach Steve Lass, men’s and women’s track and field and cross country Head Coach Pete Dolan (1982), baseball Head Coach Bob Brontsema (1985), men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg (1989) and French are all UCSB alumni who have returned to their alma mater.
“I think that most DI coaches are tremendously competitive and work really hard,” French said. “I do feel more of an allegiance and I am a little more invested in doing the very best I can because it’s my school.”
The long-term commitment of coaches such as women’s volleyball Head Coach Kathy Gregory, who coached her 29th season, and men’s and women’s swimming Head Coach Gregg Wilson, who finished his 26th season, create sound programs that repeatedly finish atop the Big West. Women’s tennis Head Coach Pete Kirkwood and Brontsema finished their 10th and 11th seasons, respectively, and French and Dolan have both been at UCSB for 16 seasons.
“The longevity really helps and makes it easy to be successful,” French said.
Newer coaches, such women’s soccer Head Coach Paul Stumpf, Vom Steeg, softball Head Coach Kristy Schroeder and men’s basketball Head Coach Bob Williams, have all been at Santa Barbara for between three and six years, and are building programs to be reckoned with in the Big West. Both men’s and women’s soccer finished second in the conference, whereas Williams’ and Shroeder’s teams finished third. Additionally, the softball team earned its first-ever NCAA bid in school history under Schroeder’s direction.
Each program’s finish earned UCSB points that contributed to the final Commissioner’s Cup makeup.
“There is a certain amount of pride that goes into saying you’re the best in your league,” French said.