They might have won the Big West Championship this season, but the UCSB women’s soccer team will not be able to win it all after a disappointing loss to Cal State Fullerton in the first round of the Big West Tournament on Friday.

The 2-1 loss in Long Beach left the Gauchos just one win shy of heading to the tournament championship and a possible bid to the NCAA Division I Tournament. The third seeded Titans’ (11-7-2 overall, 4-2-1 in the Big West) upset over second seed UCSB meant they moved on to play the fourth seed Cal Poly, who were able to upset first seed Long Beach. The Titans went on to win their second title in a row.

Friday’s game started out slowly, with neither team being very aggressive offensively. Both teams had good scoring chances throughout the game, with the Titans getting the first in the 10th minute. Junior midfielder Brianna Buffington managed to streak in and took a ball from junior Gaucho goalkeeper Katie Wright. Buffington’s ball was quickly cleared by the UCSB defense and pushed forward for the counter. Sophomore forward Genelle Ives was the last with the ball and rocketed one past the CSUF keeper, but the ball missed just wide.

Fullerton stuck first in the 34th minute, when junior forward Candice Byler got her second shot in a number of minutes, and this time made it count when she dropped one over the head of Wright for the first of the match. Four minutes later the game was almost evened up, but a cross from senior forward Chandi Bickford was deflected by the Titan defense.

Both teams started the second half much more aggressively than the first. Early on, Ives almost knotted the score again, but her shot glanced off the post and went out. Finally, in the 64th minute, the Gauchos made everything more dramatic when Allie Kueny received a penalty kick after being taken down in front of the goal. She blasted it through for the equalizer.

However, the game winner came for the Titans just two minutes later. On the offensive push following the PK, Fullerton pressed heavily. Junior midfielder Stacey Thompson launched a shot off the crossbar, and the rebound fell in the lap of sophomore midfielder Casey Schostag, who put it past Wright for the win.

Down by a score with a few minutes left, the Gauchos committed everyone they could to the attack. UCSB had a couple more chances to score, including a knock by sophomore midfielder Sami Svrcek that just barely cleared the crossbar. In the 72nd minute a diving header from Ives was stopped by the Titan keeper, and in the final minutes Cal State Fullerton managed to hold off the Gauchos to secure the win.

The Gauchos finished their 2006 campaign with a 7-7-6 overall record, and the league-best 5-1-1 in conference action.
– Derek Mead