The red-hot UCSB women’s soccer team will be looking to keep their mojo working tonight as they play their final home game of the season against St. Mary’s.
The non-conference matchup is also the Gaucho’s (6-6-5 overall, 4-1-1 in the Big West) senior night, and for four members of the team, it will be their last game under the lights of Harder Stadium. Forwards Allie Kueny and Chandi Bickford, and midfielders Kristyn Bright and Darci Gwartz are all slated to start in their final home appearance.
“It’s sad, but it’s exciting at the same time,” Bickford said. “It’s pretty much the end for me.”
While the game does not have a direct effect on the Gaucho’s season, considering they have already locked up a playoff spot, the chance for the young team to get more experience against highly skilled St. Mary’s (3-11-3) will be helpful for their postseason. While the Gaels’ record on the season is dismal, they play in the West Coast Conference, one of the best conferences in the nation. Their competition has been incredibly good all season and the Gaels will bring a very competitive club to Santa Barbara.
“We are playing a team that hasn’t done well in results, but they are a good team,” UCSB Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “They play in one of the top two conferences in the nation.”
The best opportunity for UCSB to get something out of the game is the fact that St. Mary’s plays a 4-3-3, a formation that Santa Barbara has not faced regularly. With a recent switch to the 4-3-3 for the Gauchos, the equal sets should lead to a very aggressive and fast paced game. Another striker for the opposing team will test the UCSB defense, and one less midfielder for St. Mary’s means that the Gaucho strikers should have more open looks.
“It’s a good chance for attackers to work on individual attacking and defenders to work on individual defending,” Stumpf said. “It’s a test for the defense because its man on man in the midfield and there are times when it’s going to break down.”
One of the big questions for the game will be how well the Gauchos start. Coming out soft has nagged UCSB this season, and with a non-conference matchup, they are in danger of starting the game slowly and going down early.
“My fear is that we come out flat,” Stumpf said. “We have a little bit of a repeating theme that we come out of the gates slow.”
The game’s importance lies in the momentum UCSB currently holds. The Gauchos’ five-game unbeaten streak is their longest since 2004, and continuing such a streak into this weekend and through the postseason is their ultimate goal. A win tonight against St. Mary’s will be a big boost in UCSB’s campaign, but a win in Sunday’s game against Cal Poly (9-5-3, 3-0-3 Big West) will all but lock up the second seed for the Gauchos in the Big West tournament.
“We want to come out strong, and we want to win even though the outcome doesn’t really matter,” Bickford said. “Because we have already made it to the tournament, we’re basically just playing for ourselves.”
Tonight’s game begins at 7 p.m. under the lights of Harder Stadium.