This Saturday UCSB men’s lacrosse opens up its season against the University of Southern California. The Gauchos, who won the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League Championship in four of the last six years en route to a pair of Division I National Championships in 2004-05, are playing their first game in the newly formed Southwestern Lacrosse Conference after finishing 11-5 last year. The visiting Trojans, on the other hand, went 4-11 in 2008. Santa Barbara won 9-7 in the sole meeting between the squads last year.

“They’re going to be coming out with everything because when we played them last year at USC we underestimated their ability,” senior attack Brendan Sindell said. “We came out flat and let them stay in the game. We eventually did win, but they are going to take that and come out hard against us.”

Sindell said that with the Gauchos’ history of quality play, most teams will be bringing their best efforts in an attempt to knock them off. Because of this, Santa Barbara can’t relax against lower-tier teams.

“We’ve talked about [underestimating teams] and made it clear that people are going to be coming out gunning for us because we have had one of the best programs in the country for the last eight years,” Sindell said.

Santa Barbara lost few players to graduation last year, which leaves 13 upperclassmen on the roster. This, combined with a lot of young talent, bodes well for the team’s competitive prospects. Still, with only five attacking players listed on the team, the Gauchos will have to rely on their midfield to produce goals.

“Our midfield is the best I’ve ever seen it this year,” Sindell said. “We have seven really good midfielders this year who can all put the ball in the back of the net. Up top, I’m the only attack who has been in that position before, we have one converted midfielder who is going to be good, but that’s definitely an area we need to work on.”

One huge loss for the Gauchos has been senior defender and captain Chris Schaible, who broke his leg in practice a few weeks ago, with a return slated for mid-season. Schaible, a tree of a man, matched fellow senior captain and defender James Guzik in holding down the Santa Barbara back. Guzik said that the loss definitely hurts, but the team is rebounding nicely.

“Since we lost Schaible, a few things have changed, but we’re getting used to it,” Guzik said. “We had to fit in some younger guys into some spots that they had to step up to, but they are all doing well and will be ready for this weekend. You have to lead them a little bit more because they’re not as experienced with the system, but they are learning quickly.”

A large bonus for Santa Barbara is opening at home. UCSB consistently has a rowdy crowd, which should help the home team settle down in their opening match while hopefully throwing off USC.

“It is a huge bonus to play at home, we have one of the best home field advantages in the country,” Sindell said. “Whenever we are on the road, other teams talk about how loud our fans are and how tough it is to play us at home.”

Game time is slated for Saturday at 2 p.m. in The Pit.