The defending national champion men’s club lacrosse team will take the field Saturday for two preseason games in the Fall Ball Tournament at the Pit, near Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The Gauchos will face UCLA at 10 a.m. and return to the field at 3 p.m. to face Cal Poly, a very strong defensive team.

“Cal Poly was one of the few teams last year that was able to hold us to a one-goal game,” club president Aaron Halimi said. “These guys can match up well against us. It should be an exciting game.”

The Gauchos are favored in both games after going 24-1 and winning the national championship last year, losing only once to Michigan in an away game. The high-scoring Gauchos beat the University of Arizona to capture the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League title, then won a hard-fought 8-7 victory over Colorado State for the national championship title.

This year looks to be another strong one for UCSB, as many starters from last year will return for the 2005 season, which begins Feb. 1. However, three starters will miss the preseason, including last year’s national tournament MVP and two-year captain Will Patton, and First-Team All-American attacker Luke Wilson, who led the league in scoring last year.

Despite the absence of these players, Halimi is not worried about Saturday’s games.

“This weekend will give us an opportunity to show the depth of our program,” Halimi said.

The Gauchos will still field many talented players for Saturday’s games, including All-American goalie Ryan Brittain, midfielder and co-captain Stefan Isaksen and long-stick midfielder Damon Conklin-Moragne.

“Our depth is pretty significant,” junior midfielder Cache Jones said.

All of the absent starters will return in time for the opening of the 2005 season, and Halimi says this year’s squad could be as good as last year’s championship team.

“We’re very excited about this season,” Halimi said. “And we’re hoping to repeat.”

Take note, Gaucho fans: Another #1 men’s team calls UCSB its home.