It was painful. It was stunning. It was tense and frustrating at times to watch, but for the UCSB women’s soccer team, it was also their biggest win of the season, as the #3 seeded Gauchos upset #1 seeded Cal Poly 1-1 (5-4) in penalty kicks Sunday afternoon. For the second straight year, Santa Barbara has earned not only the Big West Tournament crown but the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “For years I’ve been trying to get to [the NCAA] tournament, so to go back to back and make it look like the men’s team where it’s a surprise when we don’t make it. … That’s what we’re striving for.”
With last week’s 2-0 drubbing at Harder Stadium on Senior Day still fresh in their minds, UCSB took the field at Alex G. Spanos Stadium with more than an NCAA Tournament bid on their to do list. The Gauchos (9-9-3 overall, 5-2-2 Big West) knew they had to test senior keeper Coral Hoover early and often if they wanted to realistically compete for the title, and in the first half they did just that.
Santa Barbara fired five shots in the first half, four of which were on frame, but despite all that, it was the Mustangs (14-5-1, 7-1-1) that struck first. UCSB — who had been treading thin ice defensively with a lot of poor clearances — finally paid the price as freshman forward Bianca Burright collected one such clearance in the 39th minute and crossed it back into the box where senior forward Morgan Miller put it away inside the right post, beating junior keeper Tammy Lenham. Down 1-0 at halftime to a team that had not conceded a goal in eight straight games, something had to change for UCSB.
“[Assistant Coach Chris Fernandez] suggested we play with two attacking center mids instead of just one,” Stumpf said. “And that we were going to play a little more direct and see what we could do about rattling their defense. That was new for our girls and didn’t work well early, but in the end, we got the equalizer.”
Even though UCSB was out-shot 9-3 in the second half, they did manage to level the match off a brilliant scoring chance in the 69th minute. Sophomore midfielder Cory Yoshida found sophomore striker Katy Roby just outside the box, and Roby did the rest, weaving through the defense before letting fly a bending strike far post. The goal from the Big West Tournament MVP broke Hoover’s eight-game shutout streak to tie the game.
“[Roby]’s been pulling us out of fires all year long,” Stumpf said. “She got the game-winner against Northridge during the regular season, should have been credited for that goal against Northridge in the semifinal and then got the equalizer today.”
The scoreboard read 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes and stood at the same tally at the end of 110 minutes, necessitating a PK shootout to separate the squads. In last year’s Big West Tournament Semifinal at Harder Stadium, UCSB narrowly edged Hoover and the Mustangs by a score of 1-1 (5-4) in penalties, so the shootout was nothing new between the two Central Coast rivals. At the end of 10 penalty kicks, it was UCSB who again escaped the shootout victorious by a score of 1-1 (5-4) after junior forward Whitney Sisler sent the very first PK wide left. Sophomore Ali Cutler subbed into the game for Lenham at that point, bringing two previous shootout victories and about two inches into the net.
“We put some of our best passers on the line and said, ‘Girls, pass the ball as hard as you can into a corner,'” Stumpf said. “And I think now we’ve made 11 in a row on [Hoover]. Once they missed their first one, it certainly wasn’t over, but I felt really good about our chances.”
Now that the Gauchos are back-to-back Big West Tournament Champions, they will have to play the waiting game to see where they will be positioned come the NCAAs. Due to their disappointing 3-7-1 nonconference record, Santa Barbara will most likely end up with a seed in the low-to-mid teens, which could match them up against Stanford, UCLA, BYU or even Portland. The NCAA selection show is set to air today at 8 p.m. on ESPNews.