The UCSB club men’s soccer team is in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, poised to begin their quest for a second national championship as they start the National Tournament today 8 a.m. Despite losing their most recent contest against USC and qualifying for the tournament with an at large bid, the Gauchos are confident.
“We’re optimistic right now,” junior keeper Joel Katz said. “Were ready to back up our National Championship. [There is] no reason why we shouldn’t win.”
With a full lineup comprised of 25 guys, it looks like nothing will stand in the Gauchos’ way. Except for maybe the weather. The temperature is averaging around 25 to 28 degrees in Tuscaloosa as winter has already set in. The Gauchos have played all of their games in sunny California and have yet to battle it out in cold temperatures, let alone possible snow. However, it seems that there is not anything that can stand in their way. When asked if the cold whether would affect his team, Katz stood adamantly behind his teammates.
“Absolutely not,” the keeper said. “We’re ready to step up to win in any conditions.”
Katz injured his knee this year first in the Davis game all the way back in September, and kept aggravating it throughout the course of the year. He will be unable to play in the tournament, leaving all the pressure on sophomore goalkeeper Chris Harris. However, Harris has proved to be an exceptional keeper this year, having posted numerous shutouts, and has the team’s full confidence.
“Chris is ready to step up and lead [us] to a championship”, Katz said. “I’m gonna root him on 100 percent of the way”.
UCSB will open up at 8 a.m. against Baylor. Then, they will play that night at 8 against Penn State. Penn State will be an especially formidable opponent as they have yet to lose. In order to move on right now, the Gauchos only need to win one of these games and all their minds are on Baylor.
“It’s important we go one game at a time”, said senior captain Johnny Walker. “We don’t want to underestimate a team.”
However, the Gauchos seems to be levelheaded and do not seem to be underestimating anyone. The loss against USC seems to have motivated them right at the perfect time, leaving them hungry to prove they can win – and they want to prove it early.
“It’s crucial we come out firing”, Walker said. “Wining the first game will give us momentum in this tournament.
As Penn State seems to be a very formidable opponent, the Gauchos will need all the momentum they can get. However, they appear to have the upper hand, having defeated Penn State in round of 16 in the 2006 National Tournament.
The Gauchos are seeded first in their group and are expected to advance on into round 16 and possibly further. How far they go is up to them as they believe they can beat anyone and remain extremely confident.
“We’re here letting them know UCSB is back to win a national title,” Walker said.