After a brutal 10-game nonconference schedule that pitted them against five ranked opponents, the UCSB women’s soccer team is granted a clean slate as Big West play begins this weekend. The Gauchos (3-6-1 overall) hit the road this weekend to take on UC Irvine on Friday and Cal State Northridge on Sunday, two teams Santa Barbara beat handily at home last year by a combined score of 7-0.
“This is probably the hardest nonconference I’ve played since I’ve been here,” junior defender Julia Speace said.
UCSB matches up Friday with an Anteater squad (7-3-1) that enters the weekend with the superior record, albeit against less stout competition than Santa Barbara has faced. However, Irvine was able to defeat Arizona 2-1 in their opening weekend, a team UCSB lost to at home by the same score. UCI boasts one of the conference’s better finishers in freshman forward Mar Rodriguez, who has a team-high five goals after 11 games. As a team, UCI has certainly been productive offensively, outscoring their opponents 22-10 on the year with a 62-27 advantage in corner kicks.
“I think they’re pretty improved,” Speace said. “Irvine has gotten some good wins so far. … But we’re going into both of these games looking for wins.”
Against Northridge (4-6-0), UCSB will face one of the better defenses in the Big West, as the Matadors have allowed an average of just over one goal per game. Lately, junior Kellie Drenner has started in goal for the CSUN and has allowed just three goals, two of which came against #3 UCLA. However, the problem for Northridge has been an offense that has averaged just one goal per game and has been shut out four times already.
Regardless of who they play, UCSB will need to start converting their set piece opportunities if they want to continue to compete at a high level. Like Irvine, Santa Barbara holds a remarkable advantage in corner kick opportunities (66-30), but has only nine goals to show for them.
“We already have a new corner kick that our coaches devised,” Speace said “So, hopefully, that works for us this weekend.”
UCSB returns to Harder Stadium next Friday, Oct. 9 for a date with Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m. As always, admission for students is free.