“Oh my gosh, I was so excited because I knew we were going to the NCAA playoffs,” senior midfielder Jacqui Simon said. “I just remember seeing all the people rushing the field. … It was definitely a better feeling for us because that win was more than just revenge. It meant a lot to everyone.”
That was the scene at George Allen Field last fall after the UCSB women’s soccer team outlasted regular season champion Long Beach in penalty kicks to take the Big West Tournament crown. Today at Harder Stadium, the Gauchos (7-7-1 overall, 3-1 in Big West) entertain the 49ers (5-6-2, 1-1) for the first time since Santa Barbara recorded their biggest win in more than a decade. While this certainly isn’t the same Long Beach squad the Gauchos bested a year ago, UCSB cannot afford to underestimate the visitors.
“You can’t really look at their preseason,” Simon said. “Because now that it’s league … I’m sure they’re going to come out with a lot of intensity. We can’t really take them lightly. It should definitely be a good game.”
The 49ers enter today’s matchup having split their first week of conference play, losing 1-0 to Pacific before edging out UC Davis 2-1. Sophomore midfielder Shawna Gordon has done it all offensively for Long Beach, leading her team with four goals and four assists. Eight different 49ers have scored at least once this season, but the offense has stalled as of late, resulting in 0-0 results over their last two matches. Sophomore keeper Emily Kingsborough will most likely get the starting nod in goal for Long Beach, as the Santa Rosa native has allowed only seven goals in her seven games played, with 23 saves and three shutouts on the year.
“They’re always really good, always constantly at the top,” junior defender Julia Speace said. “So I expect a good game out of it.”
As for the Gauchos, UCSB will need to pressure the 49er backline and consistently be generating opportunities if they have any hopes of slowing a speedy Long Beach attack. All eyes will be on junior forward Kailyn Kugler, who was named to Soccer America’s Team of the Week and Big West Player of the Week after scoring three goals last weekend, the third off a penalty kick in double-overtime to lift Santa Barbara over UC Riverside 2-1. The San Clemente product leads UCSB in goals with six thus far, one away from tying her career high for goals in a season.
“[Kugler] definitely came up big for us this past weekend,” Simon said. “We had lots of opportunities to score but couldn’t put them away, so we’re definitely thankful that she was able to put away her three goals to give us two wins.”
While she has no goals of her own in 2009, junior forward Kylie McDonald has still been involved on offense, leading the team with four assists. In goal, junior keeper Tammy Lenham looks to continue her dominance in the net, having only allowed six goals in nine games played.
However, if the Gauchos intend to go deep into the postseason, or for that matter make the postseason at all, they will need to start converting their corner kicks. UCSB holds a staggering 82-37 advantage over their opponents in corner kick opportunities and have yet to convert one for a goal.
“Corners are tough,” Speace said. “We work on them, but you never really know where they’re going to go, so it’s hard to convert corners. We don’t have the tallest girls, and usually we face girls that are much taller. … We’ll get it eventually.”
Kickoff for tonight’s match at Harder Stadium between UCSB and Long Beach State is set for 5 p.m. As always, admission for students is free.