If the New York Yankees of men’s college soccer thought that UCSB was going to pull a Florida Marlins and let its 2004 national finalist team fall by the wayside, then the Hoosiers, Terrapins and Blue Devils all have a nasty surprise waiting for them in 2005.
With their third Big West championship in four years and first-ever College Cup appearance, the 2004 Gauchos made their mark on UCSB athletics history.
Yet, the bad taste left by a loss in penalty kicks to Indiana in the national championship still lingers in the mouths of the Santa Barbara players. That, combined with the loss of six seniors, four of whom were four-year starters, has been perfect motivation for a successful offseason.
“If there’s one positive aspect of all of this, I think the players are very hungry and motivated to put themselves in that position again,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “I think when you win a national championship there’s always the question of getting going again and getting back to that, but in our case, because we just fell a little bit short, the players are very fired up about next season.”
After losing starting seniors goalkeeper Danny Kennedy, defender Tony Lochhead and forwards Neil Jones and Drew McAthy, UCSB has taken an active recruiting role to bring in eight early newcomers with excellent credentials, including one player from the Under-17 and Under-18 National Teams and four Olympic Development team players.
Although the new players may not make an immediate impact in game situations, they will be expected to contribute to the team right away.
“I think it will be great to bring in so many new recruits. It will provide the team with new faces and new people who can bring different elements,” senior midfielder and co-captain Nate Boyden said. “It will also bring a sense of competition. Guys will be fighting for spots all over the field which can only make us better.”
Along with the rookies, UCSB returns a solid group of players to the field. Seniors defender Pat Scott and midfielders Boyden and Bryan Byrne have been selected as team co-captains for 2005.
“I think my job is to get everybody on the same page. It’s not what we do but who we are as a team,” Boyden said. “I want to get guys to feel a sense of accountability to themselves, their teammates, the coaches and this program.”
After a successful, undefeated spring season, Santa Barbara looks to have all the components they need to put together another national championship run in 2005. North Carolina State is the 2005 College Cup host and the Gauchos are marking their calendars.
“I like the talent, I like the team, I like our energy, I like our focus, I like everything we’ve been able to do in the off season to replace the good players that we’ve lost,” Vom Steeg said. “Everything is very positive for us.”