With a pair of solid shut-outs over the weekend and the Big West’s Player of the Week in its midst, the UCSB women’s soccer team is shooting for another victory tonight against non-conference opponent Pepperdine.
Last weekend, the Gauchos (5-5-2 overall, 2-0 in the Big West) opened up conference play spectacularly, with a 2-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton and a 4-0 shelling of UC Riverside. The six goals are a huge step up for the Santa Barbara attack, considering they had only recorded nine goals in their first 20 games. The Gauchos are also creating more opportunities for themselves, and the work showed in a 20.5 shots per game average on the weekend that doubles their previous season mark.
Notching half of the goals on the weekend was freshman forward Kailyn Kugler. Kugler, who leads the team with five goals and 11 points, was named Big West Player of the Week and to Soccer Buzz Magazine’s Elite Team of the Week. Kugler leads the freshman charge for UCSB, alongside freshman forwards Jacqui Simon and Brooke Salyer. Simon has contributed two goals on the year, and Salyer has knocked in one along with three assists.
Rounding out the Gaucho attack with consistent performance and experience are senior midfielder Romy Barber and junior forward Michelle Russell. Barber has three goals and an assist on the year, and her 108th minute game-winner in double overtime against San Diego State was one of the most exciting moments for the Gauchos so far this season, and helped pull the team out of a rough early season hole. Russell has three goals and a pair of assists on the year and has also recorded a game-winner.
On the other side of the pitch, the Santa Barbara defense looks more solid than ever, especially with the help of the attack controlling possession more. Senior goalkeeper Katie Wright was back in the lineup last weekend, after a nasty collision two weeks ago during UCSB’s match against Washington State took her out for a game and a half with a shoulder injury. Wright played excellently in her return, posting her third and fourth shutouts of the season. Much of the credit comes from the superb Gaucho back line, led by defenders senior Kandice McLaughlin and junior Rachael Ritchey. Santa Barbara’s defense has only allowed 10 shots per game on the year, and locked it up tight over the weekend.
The Gauchos are facing a Pepperdine (2-4-5) team that started off with an abysmal 0-4-1 record, but has since gone on a six-game unbeaten streak. The Waves have exploded for 11 goals during their six-game streak, and should give the Gauchos a run for their money. For two teams that are just beginning to find their stride, tonight’s game should prove to be an interesting matchup, and will likely answer any questions about the quality of both teams.