The UCSB women’s soccer team will look to break its three-game winless streak tonight against Gonzaga University and close out the final weekend of non-conference play.

This is the Gauchos’ first home game with school in session, and a home crowd should be welcome after a long road trip that ended with two tough losses.

“We haven’t had the best results lately, but we’ve really been improving as team,” senior forward Chandi Bickford said. “We’ve been doing well in most areas, it’s just the little things. We just need to finish.”

Finishing has been Bickford’s forte as she leads the Gauchos with four goals this season. Netting goals has been a rare commodity for UCSB (2-4-3 overall), with only nine in the nine games it has played in the first part of the 2006 season. The defense has done well with only 10 goals scored against the squad, but being shutout four times this season means that the Gauchos need to produce more offensively.

“We are playing well even though we’re not really winning,” senior midfield Darci Gwartz said. “For some reason we are really unlucky, we’re having trouble putting the ball away.”

UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf agrees that the Gauchos’ sub-.500 record is not representative of the team’s play.

“Even though we don’t have a great record right now, the quality of our soccer has been very good,” Stumpf said. “We just have to keep getting better every day, and be ready for conference. Gonzaga is another good team that should help us get ready.”

A huge offensive boost should be provided by the increased strength of senior forward Allie Kueny, who has spent the season recovering from injury, as well as a new transfer student from Ohio State, junior forward Heather Young.

“Heather’s been really tearing it up in practice lately, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Stumpf said.

One area the Gauchos are strong in is unity of the team, as well as strong team play on the field. Bickford said that the team is becoming more in synch with every game, and it has led to better opportunities as well as better control of possession for Santa Barbara. Stumpf credits this for the stronger recent play of the Gauchos.

With a stronger front line, UCSB will have more firepower to match a tough Gonzaga (5-4-1) team. The Bulldogs were ranked third in the pre-conference polls for the West Coast Conference. However, the WCC is a competitive conference for women’s soccer with University of Portland and Santa Clara dominating the national championships, and Gonzaga is certainly a threat to the Gauchos. Their somewhat aggressive 4-3-3 formation will complement the Gauchos’ 4-4-2 well and contribute to good scoring opportunities for UCSB. With such a competitive matchup, this game is going to be won by the team that comes out strongest, which has essentially been the epitome of Santa Barbara’s season thus far.

“Pretty much every game of ours is going to be determined by who comes out and plays their best,” Bickford said.

Tonight’s kickoff is set for 7 at Harder Stadium, the Gauchos’ last match up before Big West Conference play starts next weekend versus Long Beach.