As the season comes to a close, all any team can ask for is a good shot at locking up a championship. The UCSB women’s soccer team has done just that, and tonight faces CSU Long Beach with the Big West title on the line. The Gauchos (11-5-1, 4-1-1 Big West) trail the 49ers (11-4-3, 5-0-1 Big West) by three points heading into the 7 p.m. match. A Santa Barbara win will equalize that deficit as well as give UCSB the edge in the tiebreaker. While both squads have games on Sunday to end the season, the Gauchos must win to solidify their title possession.
The Gauchos, who are on a four-game unbeaten streak, certainly carry a season’s worth of momentum into tonight’s matchup. Last year, many injuries forced Santa Barbara to play a very young squad, and they won only six games overall. However, with a few injured players back and a huge amount of experience in their still-young roster, UCSB has been dominant throughout the season and tonight has the chance to double last year’s win total.
Santa Barbara’s success has come from an attacking mindset that has resulted in 33 goals. This is almost the same Gaucho squad that scored 14 fewer goals last year, but experience and the return of key players has given the UCSB roster incredible depth at both the forward and midfield position. Head Coach Paul Stumpf has said previously that he has five or six players in both the attack and midfield that he can play at any time, and his words have been proven true as 12 different Gauchos have recorded goals.
UCSB is led by junior forward Genelle Ives, who has bounced back with an incredible season after medically redshirting last year. Ives is second in the Big West with 22 points off eight goals and six assists, and leads the conference with 1.83 points per game during the Big West season. Sophomore midfielder Jacqui Simon has exploded during the conference season, and has bumped herself up to fifth in the Big West with 16 points. Sophomore forwards Kylie McDonald and Kailyn Kugler round out the Gauchos in the top 10 in Big West scoring with 14 points apiece.
As is usually the case, a large amount of the Santa Barbara success up top has been thanks to a rock-solid defense. Freshman goalkeeper Ali Cutler filled in midway through the season for injured Tammy Lenham, and has already recorded three shutouts. The Gaucho back line, led by senior defender Rachael Ritchey, has been a mostly impenetrable wall, and has only given up 17 goals on the season – just more than half of what the Gauchos have scored.
Tonight will be the Gauchos’ biggest test of the season, but the game has one of their biggest awards on the line. Expect both teams to come out very aggressively, and it’s going to take some incredible play from either team to grind out a victory. With so much in limbo, tonight is set to be a very special match.
Kickoff for tonight’s game is set for 7 p.m. in Harder Stadium.