After a disappointing weekend with a pair of 2-1 losses to Pepperdine and UC Irvine, the UCSB women’s soccer team will try and bounce back tonight in its final non-conference match of the season at #9 Santa Clara. The match is the last risk-free opportunity for the Gauchos to tune up and try new things before tackling the Big West competition full-time.
“They are a very good technical team, they are very athletic,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “There is definitely that fear of getting stretched out.”
The key for UCSB (5-7-2 overall) all season long has been to get their offense running. Two weeks ago Santa Barbara scored six goals during a weekend without giving one up. In fact, only once this season have the Gauchos given up more than one goal after scoring two or more. Conversely, in three of UCSB’s five shutouts, Santa Barbara found the net more than once.
The Gauchos are going to have to be at the top of their game tonight because the Broncos (8-3-2) have one of the best programs in the nation. UCSB will have to take advantage early and try to surprise Santa Clara since the last meeting between the teams was in 1996. The Gauchos have stacked up well against the Broncos in the past, with Santa Clara holding a slight 7-8-3 series advantage. On top of facing an unfamiliar team, the visiting Gauchos will have to deal with unfamiliar territory, something that they have not been successful with this season, as they own a 1-5 road mark.
“We’re going up there with nothing to lose,” Stumpf said. “We’re going to go after them, we’re going to do everything we can to get pressure on the ball. We found early in the season that when we are pressing and scrambling, we have a lot more success.”
The root of UCSB’s offensive woes has been injuries to most of their projected starters. The Gauchos had just started to show some spark after adjusting to a lot of new faces in the attack, when this last weekend junior midfielder Michelle Russell left just six minutes into the match against the Anteaters with an ankle injury. Russell, who is expected to miss three weeks, is second on the team with eight points off three goals and a pair of assists, and her production will be sorely missed. Possibly missed even more will be the experience she brings to a very young front half.
“We just lose yet another weapon up front, and it thins us out a little bit in the back,” Stumpf said. “We have to try new personnel for [Russell]. I mean, she was playing seventy minutes a game and that’s a hard spot to fill. We need to find out who can play there the best.”
But Stumpf has made it clear that with 14 games under their belt, the freshmen on the team aren’t really freshmen anymore. No one drives this point home more than freshmen forward Kailyn Kugler, who currently leads the Gauchos with 14 points and six goals. Kugler was not expected to play a lot of minutes this year, but with the chance given to her by her teammates’ injuries, she has exploded and currently ranks second in the Big West in goals.
Kugler is not the only underclassmen to find the net this year. Freshman forward Jacqui Simon has scored twice, while fellow freshmen forward Brooke Salyer and sophomore midfielder Sarah Stoltz have each notched one. In fact, these underclassmen have combined for 10 of the Gauchos’ 17 goals this season.
The actual scoring is only half the equation, as it takes someone to set shots up. In this arena, the upperclassmen have carried the weight, recording 11 of 19 assists. Senior defender Katrina Wright leads the way with four, and junior midfielders Michelle Russell and Sami Svrcek have two apiece.