The UCSB women’s soccer team will face tough competition this weekend in its two away games against Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside. Both the Titans and the Highlanders are among the top five teams in the conference and will give the Gauchos a run for their money.

“There’s no reason we can’t win,” UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “But, we have to play well. We have smart players who understand the concept of a team. We play to our strengths and avoid our weaknesses.”

This season the Gauchos are 7-4-1 and have given up only 15 goals to their opponents. The women have garnered several goals in the second halves of their games by breaking down the opposing teams’ defense, then scoring, while keeping their defense strong.

“We say if you don’t get scored on, you don’t lose,” Stumpf said.

The Gauchos expect high-level performances from the entire team, including four-year starter senior forward Jennifer Borcich. Borcich leads the Gauchos in goals and is a huge influence on the team. Senior Randi Johns is a critical player as well, helping the team with both goals and assists. Junior goalkeeper Jamie Considine has stepped up this season, saving 32 goals for UCSB.

This week’s Big West Co-Athlete of the Week, sophomore Darci Gwartz, has been an exciting surprise for the Gauchos, and she made a huge impact in last weekend’s games. She has posted one goal and five assists for the team.

“There’s a difference between an athlete and a player,” Stumpf said. “An athlete is really fast and quick but doesn’t always think. A competitor, like Gwartz, plays the role of playmaker. You have to think your way through the game. Gwartz is very fit, dedicated and has a huge impact on the game. She makes a lot of things happen.”

Fullerton and Riverside display virtually the same strengths as UCSB – deep field, speed, aggressiveness, determination and teamwork. Fullerton is 4-6-1 overall and has a strong team from top to bottom. Stumpf feels that Fullerton has one of the most talented teams and that it really knows how to focus from game to game. Junior forward Kandace Wilson is one of the fastest players in the conference and key to the Titan offense. Two other significant team members include junior midfielders Lisa Kosena and Ashley O’Brien.

Riverside has one of the top goalkeepers in the conference, sophomore Tawny Poggio, who, with Gwartz, is Big West Co-Athlete of the Week. The Highlanders are 10-0-1 this season and have given up only four goals. Poggio has made 40 saves for UCR and posts five shutouts.

“Going into the season, I estimated the toughest teams in the conference to be Cal Poly, Riverside, Fullerton and UCSB. It will be tough and it will be close,” Stumpf said. “It’s a contact sport and there’s pressure, but there’s no reason we can’t win.”