When Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg took over at the reins of the UCSB soccer team seven years ago, merely making the NCAA tournament would have been considered an unprecedented success. So, when the Gauchos made it to the second round of the tournament this year, taking second place in the Big West Conference, was 2005 considered a transitional stage from the championship appearance of 2004?

That is just how far the soccer program has evolved over the years.

In spite of losing a chunk of their roster to graduation and enduring a bevy of injuries, the Gauchos (13-5-3 overall, 7-1-2 in the Big West) entered the season with a #4 ranking and rebounded from some early blemishes to end the season in a flurry before dropping a 3-2 decision in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Cal State Northridge with a large contingent of the Santa Barbara faithful in the stands.

“I think that this was a year in which you had to really chart a new beginning with the success of a year ago, it was unrealistic to say with five to six new starters and do it like we did the year before,” Vom Steeg said. “We had a new group of players that had to find a new way to win games and beat people. It took us a bit to get there, but we found our own identity, we did it differently, it was a challenge and we really rose up.”

Among those who rose up into new roles and contributed to its success were freshman midfielder Eric Avila, junior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish and senior midfielder Chris Hughes. Because so many players were thrust into new roles this season, their experiences can only benefit next year’s squad.

“Last year we had a lot of rough injuries; we had to rely on a lot of different people and that obviously hurts you during the season,” Vom Steeg said. “But the different contributions helps out for the future, we’ll be a very deep team [next season], every position is two deep, some three deep. We’re finally in a position now where our season won’t be over with an injury.”

Additionally, the soccer program is just now really beginning to reap the benefits of the exposure of the limelight during the 2004 championship run. Vom Steeg said that he and his assistants are recruiting players and scheduling opponents that would have been out of the question in previous years.

“We see [the benefits] everyday when we talk to players, when players contact us, the people we speak to, we are having different conversations than we would have been having even three years ago,” Vom Steeg said. “We recruited a second player from the national team. … The best story is that we had a kid on a visit who said that as long as he’s been growing up UCSB has been it; talking to a kid 16 years old, for him Santa Barbara was always on the top, it’s great.”

Among the prestigious opponents on next year’s schedule are Akron, Virginia and home games against San Diego State, Loyola Marymount, Michigan and UCLA – all of which were playoff teams last season.