With the Big West Championship all wrapped up, the #9 UCSB men’s soccer team bids farewell to six seniors on Senior Night when the squad hosts UC Riverside at Harder Stadium, Saturday at 7 p.m.
Defenders Andy Iro and Greg Curry, midfielder Brennan Tennelle and forwards Andrew Proctor, Tino Nuñez and Tony Chinakwe will all take the Meredith Field pitch for their final regular season game in a Gaucho uniform. The stellar class helped lead Santa Barbara to the National Championship game in 2004 and the National Title in 2006 and is one of the program’s most successful classes ever.
“It’s bittersweet because we have a close working relationship with players day in and day out and we’re sad they are leaving the program,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “But it’s part of the process that you bring them in, graduate them and celebrate their accomplishments. This is the most accomplished class we’ve had here.”
The Gauchos (12-3-3 overall, 9-1-1 in the Big West) hope to end the regular season on a high note heading into the NCAA Tournament and bring a six-game winning streak into the season finale. The streak began with a 2-1 road victory over the Highlanders (5-6-7, 2-4-5 Big West) on goals from junior midfielder Eric Avila and sophomore midfielder Ciaran O’Brien.
For UCR, a solid nonconference showing has not translated into conference success. Riverside owns just one win in its last eight contests, but has been able to squeeze out four ties during the stretch and has tied Cal Poly (10-3-4, 5-2-4 Big West), one of the Big West’s best teams, twice this year. Currently sitting in fourth place in the league standings, the Highlanders hope that senior keeper Charles Alamo, the conference leader with 4.28 saves per game, can stifle the Gaucho offense.
Despite the recent success, Santa Barbara has given up the first goal in four straight matches, including the first two in Tuesday’s 3-2 road win over conference rival Cal State Northridge (6-7-6, 2-5-4 Big West). UCSB’s dynamic offense has been able to overcome the early holes the defense has put it in, but this is a trend the Gauchos would like to end heading into tournament play.
“I would rather give up an early goal than a goal late in the game,” Vom Steeg said. “Early in the season we gave up late goals and they ended up hurting us. Our focus has been on finishing games, but we need to start them too.”
All UCSB has left to play for is a chance to increase its seeding heading into the playoffs. In 2004, the Gauchos ended the season as the #1 team in the land, but were awarded the ninth seed, the highest in program history. This season, Santa Barbara’s hopes are even higher. UCSB is not in the top eight in any of the polls, but is #7 in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index, a key factor the selection committee’s seeding procedure. A top eight seed would guarantee the Gauchos home games until the quarterfinal round.
“We’ve been fighting for a top eight spot. It’s always been a goal of ours,” Vom Steeg said. “Having a buy in the first round means you can scout the team you will be playing. The second game is a huge advantage because you’ll be playing at home and have scouted them.”