After making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years, the UCSB women’s soccer team could have either ended their season with an NCAA title or a loss, and unfortunately the latter happened.

Friday the Big West champion Gauchos faced #5 Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament and closed out their season with a 2-0 loss. Santa Barbara held off the impressive Cardinal attack in the first half, but two goals in the second period gave Stanford the win.

“I’m exceptionally proud of my team the way they played their hearts out all night long — they have to get some credit for that,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said to “I can’t thank them [the team] enough for their efforts at fulfilling a dream of ours of getting back to this tournament. I think this is a pretty special group of kids — you saw them tonight just lay their hearts on the line. They played 90 minutes against an exceptional soccer team. I’m disappointed like crazy, but I feel so fortunate to have such a quality group of kids in my life.”

The Gauchos, fresh off of a wild Big West tournament run that saw them win the conference championship with a pair of shootout finishes, hit the wall against a Stanford team that has scored 69 goals this season while only giving up seven.

The tale of the match is told in the shooting margin. Santa Barbara averages 15 shots a game and gives up 10, but in Friday’s match they were out-shot 30-5. Thirteen of the Cardinal shots were on frame, and freshman goalkeeper Ali Cutler gave a stellar performance for UCSB, making 11 saves for a new career-best.

Sophomore forward Christen Press found the game winner for Stanford in the 52nd minute, when a turnover in the Gauchos’ box set her up for an easy finish. Press led all players with 13 shots.

In the 79th minute, the Cardinal iced it with a quality header off of a Press corner kick.

In the end, Santa Barbara has a lot to be happy about at the end of the season. UCSB only won six games last year, but impressively came back to double that this year.

The Gauchos in the Stumpf era had never won the Big West championship — although they have had some close finishes — nor had he taken a team to the NCAA tournament, and Santa Barbara accomplished both this season.

Even more impressive, the Gauchos only have five upperclassmen, and only three seniors graduating. The sophomore trio of midfielder Jacqui Simon and forwards Kailyn Kugler and Kylie McDonald notched 56 of the Gauchos’ 122 points on the season, and all three were in the top 10 in Big West scoring.

Also, UCSB has forward Genelle Ives returning for her senior season. Ives led the Gauchos with 25 points and nine goals, and finished second in the Big West for scoring.

With the 2008 season over, the Gauchos can look back and be nothing but proud. Winning a Big West title is a huge boost to the program, and with the amount of experience the young squad gained in that run, Santa Barbara should be a force for a long time coming.

“One of the things for us that we think is really important is that as much as we wanted to win tonight, we look at the future of our program that’s now gone through a conference title run, a conference tournament championship, and an NCAA playoff game,” Stumpf said to “The experience that our young team has gotten this season has been invaluable, and we are very excited about the future.