After 19 games, 38 goals and countless hours spent practicing, this is what a team dreams for: starting postseason play with a home match against your heated rival.
“We set a bunch of goals for ourselves this year. One was to get to double-digit wins and we did that,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “Another was to win the conference and we were a minute shy of that. The other big one was to host a Big West tournament game, and it feels good to have reached that.”
Tonight, the UCSB women’s soccer team takes on Cal Poly in the semifinal match of the Big West tournament. The Gauchos (12-6-1, 5-2-1 Big West) snatched the second seed and a first-round home game in the tournament thanks in large part to a 4-2 win over the Mustangs (10-9-0, 5-3-0 Big West) earlier this season. Stumpf said that although they won previously, the Gauchos know that tonight is a fresh game.
“We have the earlier game on film, and we get to look at some of the mistakes, but it’s 0-0 and we all start it all again,” Stumpf said. “It’s tough to beat teams twice, but we did play well before. I just don’t think that game will influence this one a whole lot.”
Doubling up an opponent is nothing new to this high-powered Santa Barbara squad. Their 38 goals stand in stark contrast to the 19 goals they’ve allowed. With a very deep roster of quality players, the Gauchos have been able to run a high-intensity attack all season, and 15 different players have recorded at least a point so far. Overall, the team leads the Big West with 116 points.
The Gauchos are led by junior forward Genelle Ives, who has returned from redshirting for medical reasons last season in spectacular fashion. She tops the team with eight goals, and her 23 points are second in the Big West.
“Everybody [in the Big West] knows her,” Stumpf said. “She’s easy to pick out of a crowd, she’s very athletic and she’s just dangerous. A, she’s scoring goals, and B, she’s helping our other players score by taking away a lot of attention.”
UCSB has a very young roster this year, but they hardly look the part. The sophomore trio of midfielder Jacqui Simon and forwards Kailyn Kugler and Kylie McDonald has combined for 18 of the Gauchos’ goals, and all three are in the top 10 in the Big West for scoring.
“They’ve played great,” Stumpf said. “I’ve always said 10 games in, you’re no longer a rookie. I think some of our older players have really done a good job of keeping the young players around them together. The future of our program is very bright right now.”
The Gauchos have been able to push forward so hard because of their confidence in their defense. Despite often committing numbers to the attack, UCSB has one of the best backs in the Big West. Led by senior defender Rachael Ritchey, Santa Barbara is averaging one goal against per game along with eight shutouts.
“Rachael has a freshman goalkeeper, two freshmen defenders and a sophomore defender around her,” Stumpf said. “She’s done an amazing job keeping everyone together, and back there we have some names that I think you will be seeing starting on our roster for a very long time.”
UCSB is facing Cal Poly for the second time this season after winning a rough-and-tumble matchup in San Luis Obispo 4-2 earlier this year. The teams have historically played intense matches, but the Gauchos are 6-9-2 all-time against them. The Mustangs haven’t visited Harder Stadium in over a year but pulled out a 1-0 win last October.
“We really like the way the two systems match up,” Stumpf said. “We try to make teams change to us. We’ve made our players aware of some things that we could do better, but I’m really happy with where we are right now.”
The game is a must-win in the Gauchos’ goal of getting to the NCAA tournament, but for Stumpf, a win will carry a whole other significance. Stumpf, who is in his 10th season coaching UCSB, has a lifetime record of 99-75-22. Winning tonight would give him his 100th win, and more importantly, move him into a tie with Tad Bobak for the most in Santa Barbara history. Stumpf said he has been trying to keep quiet about it.
“You know, 10 wins a year in this day and age I think is definitely saying something, but we’ll deal with that when we get there,” Stumpf said. “Far more importantly, it’s a semifinals match that we need to win to continue down the road to our goal of making the NCAA tournament.
Kick-off for tonight’s match is scheduled for 7 p.m.