Good teams always bounce back from tough losses, and that’s exactly what the #20 UCSB women’s soccer team did this past weekend. The Gauchos (5-2) gave up a late goal to lose 3-2 to Washington State (2-2-3) on Friday, but showed up ready to go on Sunday and took down Tennessee 2-1. The Lady Vols came into the weekend ranked #24, and battled Santa Barbara to a 1-1 first half, but a textbook through ball from senior midfielder Sami Svercek found sophomore midfielder Jacqui Simon. Simon made the Tennessee keeper look like a lost toddler as she found the net for the win.
“It’s just such a big win for our little program,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “To come back after a tough loss speaks volumes about our team. I would say this is the biggest win of the year so far.”
The Gauchos have been striking first a lot this season, and Sunday was no exception. Midway through the first half, sophomore forward Kailyn Kugler snagged the ball near the top of the box during a long Gaucho possession in the attacking half. Kugler broke through a Tennessee double-team and sent a pass to sophomore forward Kylie McDonald, who was camping just outside the 18 on the left side. McDonald dribbled into free space in the box and blasted a beautiful shot that bent over the keeper and into the upper right corner.
The Gauchos controlled possession for most of the first half thanks to powerful midfield play, but the Lady Vols showed that they deserved their ranking by netting a 38th minute equalizer. Perhaps frustrated with a lack of quality touches thus far in the game, senior forward Kylee Rossi stole a ball at midfield and exploded into the transition. Rossi dribbled through the UCSB defense and put a well-placed cut shot past sophomore goalkeeper Tammy Lenham. Rossi’s impressive goal came right as the Gauchos began to slow as the game neared halftime.
“We flattened a bit at the end of the half,” Stumpf said. “When we got into the locker room, we [the coaching staff] challenged the girls. We told them they needed to step up if they wanted to win the game, and they did.”
With an even score halfway through, both teams came out aggressively in the second half. As the physicality of the match intensified, the Gaucho midfield continued to grind out tough stops and won the majority of the 50/50 balls. Santa Barbara put a lot of good shots on frame, but solid play from Tennessee keeper Jaimel Johnson kept the match knotted. However, in the 67th minute, Svercek won a ball just as the Lady Vols’ back line was pushing up, and sent a perfect ball to Simon who had just started a well-timed run. Simon’s fancy footwork left Johnson sitting on the grass as Simon knocked in the game-winner. The Gauchos comfortably rode out the final 23 minutes with a back line that looked very composed in warding off the desperate Tennesse attack and excellent play from Lenham, who recorded a season-high six saves in a very impressive outing.
“The main difference today was Sami Svercek; for me, she was amazing,” Stumpf said. “I think we have six quality midfielders who can run from box to box and both set up our forwards and shut down theirs. Also, [the win] speaks so highly of our goalkeeper, Tammy Lenham. Tammy did an awesome job to have six saves against a team that was shooting well.”
Sunday’s win avenged a tough loss to Washington State on Friday. The Cougars took the lead just four minutes in, when sophomore forward Emma Stolz fired a pass to junior forward Kiersten Dallstream. Dallstream sent a low shot that beat Lenham and left the Gauchos down 1-0. Just eight minutes later, McDonald found space while driving down the left side and sent a nice cross inside that found junior forward Genelle Ives. Ives launched above everybody to knock a lovely header into the net.
The Cougars regained the lead early in the second half off an unassisted goal from Dallstream, who broke through the Gaucho back line and got past a breaking Lenham. Fourteen minutes later, the Gauchos came back again when freshman midfielder Cory Yoshida sent a ball to Kugler, who danced her way into the box and notched the 76th minute equalizer. It looked like the Gauchos might grab the win in the closing minutes, but instead it was Washington State who ran off with it in the 85th minute. Dallstream was once again in on the action, and sent a ball to junior Elysse Van Leer, who took a mid-range shot from the right side that was perfectly placed to snag the win.
“They have someone special in [Dallstream],” Stumpf said. “When there’s some pace there, we can get a bit nervous, and the goals we gave up were mostly mistakes on our part. But we only gave up three second-half shots, and two went in. I’m really happy with where we are, but extremely disappointed in the result.”
The #20 Gauchos, who moved up a spot in the NSCAA/Adidas national rankings after the weekend, now head off for a long road trip that begins with a pair of games this weekend in Hawaii.