If tough experiences build character, then the UCSB women’s soccer team (5-5-0 overall) has surely returned to Santa Barbara a better team than when they left.

In the searing Arizona heat, the Gauchos fell by the feet of the Pac-10’s Arizona State (5-3-1) and #23 Arizona (5-2-2), each by a single goal.

“The road trip was tough, it was a ten-hour bus ride; the heat didn’t help, it was 100 degrees; and then you throw in two Pac-10 teams,” Goalkeeping Coach Todd Heil said. “It just makes for a bit of an overwhelming weekend. But that’s the life of a D1 soccer team.”

After a grueling bus trip on Thursday, the Gauchos played the Sun Devils Friday evening to a 0-0 tie in regulation thanks largely to a solid goalkeeping performance from senior goalkeeper and team captain Jamie Considine.

Considine put up nine saves to keep her team in the match where Arizona State fired a 24-shot barrage in her direction – compared to only four shots posted by the Gaucho offense.

“Arizona State was definitely a quality side and they pretty much defined the pace of the game,” Heil said. “Jamie Considine was [a key player] in the first game.”

Arizona State’s senior forward Elizabeth Bogus put away the lone goal of the game just four minutes into overtime after collecting her own rebound.

“On Friday we didn’t come out to play,” junior captain Darci Gwartz said.

After leaving Tempe for Tucson, the Gauchos sprang back from a disappointing performance on Friday to put their 23rd ranked opponent back on their heels in the final minutes of a nail-biting shootout.

Although the Wildcats jumped to a 3-1 advantage by riding the coattails of senior forward Mallory Miller’s first two goals of the match, the Gauchos would not lay down and accept the defeat without a battle.

“Sunday we really stepped it up,” Gwartz said. “We weren’t satisfied, but we were happy with our performance.”

With goals coming from captains Gwartz and Allie Kueny, as well as a late goal by freshman defender Rachael Ritchey who scored off a corner kick by Kueny with fewer than 15 minutes remaining, the Gauchos pulled even with the Wildcats long enough to dream of an unlikely upset.

“Our whole defense played great and our offense really came together to score three goals against the #23 team in the nation,” Heil said.

Unfortunately for UCSB, the upset was not to be as Miller slotted the game winner – the ninth game-winner of her career – for the Wildcats with just two minutes remaining in regulation.

“We usually don’t give up three goals like that,” Wildcats Head Coach Dan Tobias reported on the school’s website. “It was uncharacteristic for us. I have to give credit to UCSB. We made three mistakes and they scored three goals.”

Coach Heil seconded Tobias’ praise for the Gaucho’s performance on Sunday night.

“[It showed] we can compete with one of the top teams in the nation,” Heil said. “It was definitely a fifty-fifty game; they had their moments and we had ours.”

The next outing of the Gauchos looks like an even greater character-building opportunity than UCSB experienced this past weekend in Arizona; the #2-ranked UCLA Bruins come to town Wednesday night at 7 in Harder Stadium.