Over the course of this school year, I’ve seen nearly 100 UCSB sporting events. I’ve watched Gauchos in action in cities ranging from Dallas, Texas, to Norfolk, Va., and I’ve heard versions of the national anthem that make Borat’s rendition seem reasonable. Throughout it all though, one moment sticks out above the rest. It occurred in a post-game press conference in St. Louis, just minutes after the soccer team captured the school’s second national championship. As Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg addressed the media, sophomore Nick Perera passed his phone around the stage, showing a photo of the fans back in Isla Vista celebrating on the beach. But on a campus where beer pong often overshadows college athletics, can that moment ever be recaptured? My hope is that it can, and with the book about to be closed on another year of Gaucho athletics, this is the perfect time to look at what the future might hold.
I’ll start with the champs, because quite frankly, they’ve earned the right to top any list involving UCSB sports for years to come. Despite losing four key players on the field, next year’s roster might be the most talented in school history. Ciaran O’Brien – the country’s top transfer – is expected to fill the void left by Tyler Rosenlund’s departure, while Eric Avila will move outside to replace the since-drafted Bryan Byrne. With the continued development of players like Perera, Bongomin Otii, Chris Pontius and Alfonso Motagalvan, the team should have more than enough talent to compete with anyone in the country. The lone question mark for now is in goal, where Bryant Rueckner is expected to pick up where Kyle Reynish left off. If he can do so, the Gauchos appear poised to make another run at a title. One problem that the team does need to watch out for is the fact that every opponent will circle the UCSB game on their calendar. Like it or not, the Gauchos are a marked team, but anyone who knows Coach Vom Steeg knows that he probably won’t have any difficulty motivating his players. On an individual note, keep an eye on Avila and Andy Iro, as both should be in the running for national player of the year honors.
Moving over to the hardwood, there’s no doubt that it’s Big West Title-or-bust time for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The men should go into the year as conference favorites, and anything short of a trip to the Big Dance would be sorely disappointing. Transfer Nedim Pajevic should provide a huge boost on the floor, as well as in the stands as fans and announcers alike find new ways to pronounce his name incorrectly. Next season will also provide a rarity for Gaucho fans, as Alex Harris will have a legitimate shot at playing his way into the NBA draft. Keep an eye on Harris on the floor, but don’t forget to check out press row to get a head-count of the scouts in attendance.
The women’s team finds itself in a peculiar situation, as virtually everyone in the conference knows the way the season will play out. Barring some sort of disaster, UCSB and UC Riverside will be far and away the best teams in the league, and both should cruise to the Big West Tournament finale. The question now becomes whether or not Head Coach Mark French, Jenna Green, Jessica Wilson and the rest of the Gauchos can get over the hump and end the Highlanders’ two-year run at the top. Also, watch for French and his team to attack its non-conference schedule, as this might be the rare season when the conference earns two bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Aside from the big-time sports, several other teams on campus should be on the rise, but that’s a topic for another column. For now, go off and enjoy your summer break, but don’t forget to show up in early September to serenade the champs with those famous chants of “Soccer School USA.”