All Santa Barbara needed was a single wasted minute.
After playing 19 games over the past few months, the UCSB women’s soccer team came 62 seconds away from taking the Big West season title, but an 89th-minute stunner swept it all away.
Friday night the Gauchos faced visiting CSU Long Beach with the Big West season title on the line, and carried a 1-0 lead all the way until the 89th, when the 49ers found the miraculous equalizer to push things into overtime. UCSB couldn’t recover, and Long Beach made the title-winning shot in the second overtime period to snag the 2-1 win.
“We were a minute away from winning the conference, and [the loss] was incredibly heartbreaking,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “I think I actually heard my heart crack.”
After 71 minutes of hard-fought but scoreless soccer, sophomore forwards Kailyn Kugler and Kylie McDonald combined to put the Gauchos up 1-0. McDonald took a deep free kick that wasn’t cleared by Long Beach, and Kugler took advantage with a hard shot into the lower left corner. The goal was Kugler’s sixth of the year, while McDonald notched her seventh assist.
“Our young kids have kept us in it this year,” Stumpf said. “We only have three seniors and two juniors, so there are a lot of underclassmen on the field.”
As time wound down, Santa Barbara focused on running out the rest of the clock to preserve the win and the title. Despite closing up the back, 49er Kristen Kiefer was able to find the net with just over a minute left in regulation. Stumpf said that he wishes he had worked more on eliminating possession in the closing minutes of the game.
“We could have done a better job time wasting,” Stumpf said. “A large part of it is my fault because I haven’t worked on that with them enough, but hopefully they learned an exceedingly painful lesson.”
Despite the tough loss, the Gauchos’ main focus is on winning the Big West postseason tournament because taking that championship is the only guaranteed way to lock a bid to the NCAA tournament. Santa Barbara bounced back and took major strides toward that crown Sunday night with a 4-0 barn burner against UC Irvine. Four different Gauchos scored in a match UCSB dominated from start to finish. The win, combined with a Cal Poly loss, gave Santa Barbara the #2 seed in the Big West tourney and a first-round home match this Thursday.
“We’ve fulfilled almost all of the goals we set out for ourselves this year,” Stumpf said. “We won double-digit games, we made the end of season tournament, and we have a home playoff game. All we need to do now is get to the NCAA tourney.”
The Gauchos had numerous good looks against the Anteaters, but early on the SB shots all were just shy of touching net. After a bunch of close calls, the floodgates opened in the 23rd minute when sophomore midfielder Jacqui Simon found a free ball in the middle of a crowd in the box and rocked a shot into the net for her sixth of the year.
Fifteen minutes later, Santa Barbara showed off its connectivity when sophomore midfielder Nicole Romanowski sent a cross in to junior forward Genelle Ives at the top of the box. Ives dropped the ball to freshman midfielder Katy Roby, who blasted a beautiful low rocket that bent outside and back into the lower left corner. Then, in the 41st minute, McDonald did some scoring of her own. McDonald took possession at the 18, and after a quality feint, opened up spaced and ripped a shot into the left side of the net that put UCSB up 3-0 just before the break. The Gauchos came out firing in the second half, and Kugler managed the to rack up her second goal of the weekend with 32:55 to play. A cross from the left side filtered through to Kugler, who blasted a 10-yarder that was blocked by an Irvine defender. The deflection came right back to Kugler’s feet, and she nailed the second attempt. The win is the Gauchos’ 12th of the year, which is an incredible feat after the team only won six games all of last season.
“Last year we won six games, this year we’ve won 12,” Stumpf said. “I’m unbelievably ecstatic to have doubled our wins this year.”