The UCSB women’s soccer team, as well as the early polls, is confident that this season will be better than last year’s as it kicks off the year.

The Big West preseason coaches’ poll has UCSB (2-2-3 overall) ranked third of eight teams in the conference. The Big West as a whole is highly touted; the 2005 ratings percentage index lists the Big West as the fourth best conference in the nation. Moving up that list is a definite possibility in 2006. Higher conference rankings translate into more bids to the NCAA Tournament, something UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf hopes to take advantage of.

“The [team] rankings are based upon what everybody did last year,” Stumpf said. “It’s nice to see your name up there, but the rankings are early. The coaches’ poll puts us third or fourth, and that’s where I see us. The Big West ranking is significant, we were 19th out of 21 a few years ago, and now we are beginning to become one of the premier conferences in the nation. Maybe we will start getting two or three teams into the NCAA tournament.”

Another bonus of the higher ranking of the Big West conference is the prestige and advertisement that it gives the teams. Stumpf said that this should draw the interest of better recruits, and thus lead to a better program.

“Hopefully down the road when kids start seeing that the Big West is better, we’ll get better kids down the line,” Stumpf said.

The big factor in the Gauchos’ season will be the young players, as most of the roster last year was comprised of freshmen. With one season already under their belt, and the experience that comes with it, these players have matured greatly and should contribute heavily to turning last year’s losing season into this year’s success story.

“The difference between this year and last year is we had 18 new players last year,” Stumpf said. “They’re still young and they still make mistakes, but they have more experience.”

The Gauchos have had a tough non-conference schedule, and their current record shows it. What the record does not show is how well the team has been playing, especially in their latest game against Arizona State. Despite playing well for the majority of the game, the Gauchos were left disappointed with a 2-2 overtime tie after they could not capitalize off numerous shots on goal in the final minutes.

“A lot of the freshmen we had have gained a lot of experience. Overall we’ve learned a lot,” senior forward Allie Kueny said. “We’ve been playing really well and sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”

Coach Stumpf said that the tough schedule will be nothing but good for the Gauchos, as it should prepare them well for the conference season.