After facing one of their toughest season-opening schedules in recent memory, the UCSB women’s soccer team is starting to show some promise with a pair of hard-fought ties over the weekend.
The battered Gauchos (1-3-2) tied Denver University (2-1-2) 0-0 on Friday, followed by a tie with University of Nevada Las Vegas (3-2-1) on Sunday when freshman forward Jacqui Simon notched the first goal of her career to even up the score.
“A big part of our problem is we have six scholarship players out on injury right now,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “We have had to challenge younger players to step up, and they are doing that.”
Simon has certainly shown some spark, as her goal came in the 79th minute of the match thanks to an aggressive push that saw eight Gauchos on the attack. Once granted a clean look, senior midfielder Romy Barber sent a quality cross to junior midfielder Sami Svrcek in front of the net. Svrcek’s shot was blocked back to her feet and she immediately passed to Simon, who was streaking inside from the right corner. Simon slid near the right post, taking a pair of Rebel defenders with her, and opened her Santa Barbara scoring career in a spectacular fashion. The goal ended 50 consecutive minutes of scoreless soccer, after Rebel forward Kate Carney had drilled an excellent shot from 25 yards out near the end of the first half to give UNLV a 1-0 lead. Carney’s shot proved to be one of the rare falters for a Gaucho back line that looks to be the strength of the team.
“The good news is we are very difficult to score on,” Stumpf said. “We have an outstanding keeper in [senior] Katie Wright and outstanding center backs in [junior] Rachael Ritchey and [senior] Kandice Mclaughlin.”
Wright had an excellent game against a Las Vegas team that knew how to blast some quality shots. In the 33rd minute, a Rebel corner bent all the way to the net, but a jumping Wright punched away the goal. However, the highlight of the game came early in the first overtime, when Gaucho miscommunication left a Rebel with the ball 18 yards out with a clear look. The shot rocketed towards the top corner, but a fully outstretched Wright blocked the ball over the crossbar.
With a solid defense to rely on, UCSB is working hard to build up its injured attacking half. Three of the six injured Gauchos make their living scoring goals, including junior forward Genelle Ives, who is medically redshirting after injuring her knee. Ives, a First Team All-Big West selection last year, has led or tied for the team lead in goals in her first two seasons. Despite losing his core strikers, Stumpf feels that his younger players are going to fill in nicely.
“I think our fitness is very good as a team, and I think we are controlling the ball very well. Our mentality is where it needs to be, and our younger players are playing very hard, which is what matters to me more than skill level,” Stumpf said. “Specifically, our main problem is just keeping possession in the box and getting quality shots in close.”
The Gauchos next play at CSU Bakersfield (2-4) on Thursday, and return home on Sunday for a 6:00 PM match against SDSU (2-2-2) at Harder Stadium.