The UCSB women’s soccer team faces a mixed bag of conference play this weekend, going up against Fullerton, currently undefeated in conference, on Friday night, and then a Riverside squad on Sunday that has yet to record a win against Big West opponents.
The road has not been kind to the Gauchos (3-6-4 overall, 1-1-0 in the Big West) this year, as shown by their dismal 1-3-3 record in games that required a bus. The momentum gained by last Sunday’s 4-0 rout of Irvine could carry over into this weekend’s games, and fresh confidence for the Gauchos’ attack will be crucial in the contest against the competitive Fullerton (7-5-1 overall, 3-0 Big West).
Fullerton’s defense has recorded five shutouts and has given up more than two goals only once, while Santa Barbara has yet to allow an opponent to score more than twice in any game this season. Also, the Titans have only scored more than two goals in a game twice this season, both of which were early in the year.
However, in the game against Irvine, Santa Barbara restructured its attack to become more aggressive by adding a third forward.
“We have changed our system a little bit to make us more offensive,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “Maybe the system is helping, maybe our luck has turned. Our girls have gotten tired of losing 1-0. We decided that if we lose, we are going down swinging. So, we are going with 3 strikers.”
Unlike Fullerton, Riverside (7-6-0 overall, 0-3 Big West) is not represented well by its season stats, as it has lost four games by a margin of a single goal. The Highlanders’ current four-game losing streak is a good sign for UCSB since Riverside’s confidence should be down. The big factor in Sunday’s game should be the Highlanders’ home-field advantage, as they are accustomed to playing on their inferior field and have also done extra promotional work this week in hopes of increasing attendance.
“Riverside isn’t quite as good as last year, but it’s not like they are getting blown out,” said Stumpf. “Their field isn’t that great, and I think that hurts us because we are more technical than they are. That levels the game because we won’t be able to string thirteen or fourteen passes together.”
Currently, the biggest problem for the Gauchos is the health of the team. While senior forward Allie Kueny has been getting her strength back, junior forward Heather Young is out for the season due to an undisclosed injury that occurred in a biking accident. Young, who went to the National Championship last year with Ohio State, brought experience to the Gaucho attack and will be missed for the rest of the year. Sophomore defender Rachael Ritchey is also injured and has spent limited time in practice as of late. Ritchey is an anchor for the Santa Barbara defense, and while she may still play, the Gauchos will suffer if her condition worsens.
“I’m concerned because we’ve lost our national team striker, Heather Young, for the season,” said Stumpf. “Also, [Ritchey] has only practiced once this week, which is a problem. She is probable for the weekend, but she will be in a lot of pain.”