Coming off a wild season that culminated in an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in 17 years, the UC Santa Barbara women’s soccer team (2-4-1) has experienced ups and downs in the early stages of its 2009 campaign. To their credit, the Gauchos have notched wins against Nevada and a tough William & Mary squad while playing #32 Michigan State to a double-overtime tie. However, if they wish to repeat their Cinderella season, the defending Big West Champions know they have to match the energy and intensity that took them to new levels only a year ago.

“We’re gelling as a team in some respects, but we’ve started off kind of sluggish,” junior defender Julia Speace said. “This year we have high expectations, so we need to come out hard right from the first whistle.”

Getting down early has been a recurring theme, as the Gauchos have been shut out in three of their four losses. It was not until last week’s meeting with William & Mary that UCSB was able to tally multiple goals, defeating its opponent 2-0 on the way to Head Coach Paul Stumpf’s school record 101st win.

In the historic day for Coach Stumpf, junior goalkeeper Tammy Lenham recorded her first shutout of the season, making an impressive return after missing most of 2008 with an injury. The playing time of Lenham and sophomore goalkeeper Ali Cutler should be an interesting storyline to follow as the season progresses, since Cutler played brilliantly as the Santa Barbara stopper in her freshman campaign.

“They [Lenham and Cutler] are both really competitive, but are also very supportive of each other,” Speace said. “We have a good chance to win regardless of whoever gets the start.”

Coming off a much needed win, UCSB kept up the offensive pressure against George Mason in its most recent contest, but came up on the short end of a 3-1 loss despite outshooting the opposition 21-12. Junior forward Kailyn Kugler would account for the team’s lone goal, good for her second of the year.

“It was a good win against [William & Mary], but coming away with two wins over the weekend would have been a lot better,” Speace said.

Santa Barbara will look to return to its winning ways tomorrow at Cal State Bakersfield, playing on the road for its seventh time in eight games. Following its matchup with Bakersfield, the Gauchos will take a week off before
returning home to the friendly confines of Harder Stadium to do battle with Arizona and #4 UCLA before it enters Big West play.

With conference matchups right around the corner, UCSB will look to jump start an offense that has still yet to see a goal or assist from senior forward Genelle Ives, the reigning Big West Offensive Player of the Year. If the offensive attack can begin to click with the defensive efforts that have kept the team afloat, women’s soccer should give the Gaucho faithful plenty of reason to believe in another run at the title.