The fall 2004 chapter of the “Battle of the Beach” will begin tonight at Harder Stadium, where the UCSB women’s soccer team plays host to Long Beach State at 7.

Santa Barbara (5-4-1 overall) enters tonight’s game having shut out its last two opponents. The UCSB defense was solid last Sunday, holding on through double overtime to earn a tie with San Diego State.

“The San Diego State game really prepared us for this weekend,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “These teams all have disruptive defending and they play very physical.”

The beginning of Big West Conference play this weekend will trigger tougher competition. The 49ers (5-3-1) come to Harder Stadium with the reigning Big West Player of the Week in their ranks. Sophomore defender Natalie Messina earned the award by leading Long Beach at the Creighton Bluejay Classic in Omaha, Neb., last weekend.

The Gauchos will counter with Big West scoring leader senior forward Jennifer Borcich on the front line. Borcich has plenty of help from the eight other goal-scorers, who have contributed to the Gauchos’ 19 preseason goals. Sophomore forwards Allie Kueny and Chandi Bickford have combined for five goals and eight assists so far this season.

UCSB won’t be off the hook after battling the 49ers; Irvine visits Harder Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Anteaters (3-5-2) took fourth place in the Big West last year, two spots behind UCSB. In its last match, Irvine held Loyola Marymount scoreless but could not put one in the back of the net, finishing in a scoreless tie.

Scoring a goal against the UCSB defense could be a difficult task for the Anteaters. With two shutouts last weekend, junior Jamie Considine moved herself into a tie for third on the UCSB career shutouts list. She has 20 total shutouts at the start of her third Big West Conference season.

The rest of the Gaucho defense, led by junior central defender Katie Cooper, has allowed only one goal in the past four games. Along with Considine and freshman keeper Catherine Burson, the UCSB defense enters Big West play with a 1.36 goals-against average.

“I never think they’re ready,” said Stumpf, who enters his sixth Big West season with the Gauchos. “But they always prove me wrong.”