The UCSB women’s soccer team has the first chance this season to take on the team that will soon be the newest member of the Big West Conference. Davis, a former Division II school, will become an active member of the Big West in 2007 when its four-year provisional period is completed.

Until then, the Aggies (4-5-2 overall) must take on each and every Big West team without hopes of a conference championship. The Gauchos (5-6 overall) get the Big West’s first crack at Davis tonight at 7.

“Santa Barbara is historically one of the top teams in the conference,” Davis Head Coach MaryClaire Robinson said on the Davis website. “There is no good time to play them, but I feel much more confident playing them this weekend than last week. I think we have our feet under us.”

The records of the respective schools set to do battle tonight at Harder Stadium seem very similar, but UCSB has played three games over the past week, including two games against nationally ranked teams.

The Gauchos hung tough with two out of the three Pac-10 opponents they faced over the past week and the only blowout decided by more than one goal was against #4 UCLA on Wednesday night.

“As frustrated as these girls are being on a three-game slide, I feel like that if we play with that intensity, that quality and that organization [we had against UCLA], we’re going to be fine,” UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “Overall, [I thought the effort was good against UCLA,] considering all the work they had to put in to chase them for 90 minutes.”

Plagued by injury and illness that sidelined four starters against UCLA, UCSB will not have it easy against Davis but it should be easier than the past three matches have been.

The Davis coaching staff has reported serious deficiencies in the ability of their offense to put the ball in the back of the net.

“We’re still snake-bit in front of the net,” Robinson reported on the Davis website. “We had a situation in the first 10 minutes against Air Force when the ball was on the ground inside the six. We’d shoot and it would hit someone in the shin. We’d shoot again and it would hit the post. Maybe we’re trying to get the perfect shot and we’re waiting too long.”

Despite the Gauchos’ difficult preseason schedule, they have put up three more goals than Davis over the same span of time.

The Aggies are not without quality goal scorers, though; sophomore forward Megan Wall scored a goal in each of the team’s games last weekend and could pose a serious threat, especially in the wake of Santa Barbara’s depleted ranks.

As of Wednesday night, the disabled list for the Gauchos included sophomore defenders Kathleen Prieto and Jessie Steinberg along with junior forward Chandi Bickford and senior midfielder Kristyn Bright.

Following the game tonight, UCSB will have a weeklong siesta to recuperate before preparing for next weekend’s Big West opener at Irvine.