The UCSB men’s club lacrosse team took down the University of Arizona 7-5 this weekend in the West Coast Lacrosse League’s championship game. The title is an incredible fourth for the Gauchos in the last five years.

Santa Barbara first squared off against an underwhelming UC Berkeley team Saturday, snagging a birth in the WCLL title game with a 12-4 routing of the Golden Bears. The Gauchos are now gearing up for their trip to the United States Lacrosse Men’s Division IA National Championships, to be held May 15-19. UCSB, who won the national title in 2004 and 2005, will be pushing to regain the championship after a disappointing 6-5 semifinals loss to Colorado last year.

The Gauchos set the tone in the championship match against the Wildcats with a pair of early goals. Senior midfielder Dustin Benesch, who was named Offensive Player of the Game, notched the first goal of the match about two minutes in. With Arizona’s goalie out of the cage on a 10-man ride, Benesch shook his defender at midfield and blasted a shot into the wide-open nylon. Benesch scored twice and tossed out an assist. With a midfield squad hurt by injuries, Benesch’s performance put the Gauchos over the top in the low-scoring match.

“We played pretty well; we got the job done on the offensive side,” Benesch said. “It was hard because we only had five midfielders and that got everyone pretty tired. It’s really more of a tribute to our defense than it is to our offense. Holding a really good offense to only five goals is what lets the offense come out ahead. It was definitely a defensive victory.”

Senior midfielder Masato Takeshita won the resulting face-off and fed the ball to sophomore defender Chris Schaible, who took the ball from midfield straight to the net, pushing UCSB’s lead to 2-0 in the early minutes of the game.

“Masato was absolutely dominant in face-offs,” senior defender Doug Abate said. “It’s nice to have me, Schaible and Sato [Takeshita] on face-offs. Sato always gets the ball out to us and we can hold the ball down.”

Things began to settle down in the rest of the first half, and despite an Arizona goal that brought the game to 2-1, Santa Barbara held tight and took a 4-1 lead into the half. Senior attack Nick Stratton came out explosively in the second half with one of the most brilliant goals in the game. Stratton beat his defender while looping around the back of the cage, and dove in front of the net, making the shot in mid-flight.

Arizona answered with a similarly impressive goal when a Wildcat attacker ran around the back of the net and wrapped in a one-handed shot. Once again the Gauchos answered the Arizona goal with two of their own, and held a comfortable 7-3 into the late minutes of the game.

With the championship on the line and time running out, the Wildcats frantically began trying to score goals. The frenzy caused a few Gaucho errors that allowed Arizona to notch a pair of goals, but, after a few minutes of the ball being thrown from end to end, the defense settled back down and closed out the game without further incident.

“I think we played really well, and especially in this part of the season we are coming together as a defense,” Abate said. “Between [senior defender] Elliot Carney, Schaible, [sophomore defender] James Guzik and me, we don’t have anyone who is getting the drop on them. We’re really playing seamlessly.”

With a league championship under their collective belt, the Gauchos have a lot of momentum heading into the two-week break before they head out to Dallas, Texas for the USL-MDIA National Championship.

“We have a lot of experience in championship and playoff settings,” Abate said. “Overall we’re feeling confident. We know that it’s going to be very tough, but we have the motivation and the experience to play really well.”