With the #2 seed and a 9-5 record heading into the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference tournament held at Chapman University, the Gauchos had a pretty good shot at taking home the league title. But after dispatching the University of Arizona in the quarterfinals, Arizona State would take care of business in the semifinals to send UCSB home in disappointment.

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After a slow start to their season, the Gauchos won nine of their last 11 games heading into the semifinals of their conference tournament. Santa Barbara loses nine seniors heading into next year.

When the Gauchos took the field last Thursday, they faced a different Arizona team than they had seen during the regular season. The Wildcats had made some changes to their offense, and UCSB had trouble adjusting. U of A kept pace with the Gauchos throughout the first and much of the second quarter, leaving UCSB clinging to a 5-4 halftime lead.

“They made some significant changes to their game plan from the regular season, and we came out sloppy, committing several unforced errors in the first half,” Head Coach Mario Waibel said.

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Junior midfielder Nate Wellin races past a Loyola Marymount defender in a game earlier this season. UCSB was upended by Arizona State in a 13-9 loss in the SLC semifinals.

The second half was a different story. After seeing and studying Arizona’s new strategy for a full half of play, UCSB retook the field ready to launch a counterattack. Needing more clean shots on goal and a better defensive front, Santa Barbara delivered on all cylinders. Over the next 30 minutes, UCSB outshot Arizona 20-12, leading to an 8-4 score in favor of the Gauchos for the second period. When time expired, UCSB had locked up a 13-8 win, and began preparing for a semifinal showdown.

“We were a little loose at points in the first half, but our leaders pulled the team together and focused everyone on the goals,” Waibel said. “In the second half, we made some strategic adjustments and focused on valuing the ball more.”

When Saturday and the semifinal game against Arizona State finally arrived, the Gauchos took the field looking to repeat their success against the Wildcats and make it to the championship round, but from the opening whistle things did not go their way. Though the Sun Devils only took four more shots than UCSB in the first half, Santa Barbara was outscored 8-5 and went into the break strategizing on how to send their shots past ASU’s goalie.

[media-credit id=20108 align=”alignleft” width=”184″][/media-credit]As the second half opened, it looked as if the Gauchos had found the answer they were looking for, opening the half with three unanswered goals to level the score at eight. Unfortunately, their early scores would not be enough to take the game.

Though Santa Barbara outshot ASU 28-12 in the half and 42-31 in the game, the team could not find the back of the net. Over the remainder of the game, ASU outscored UCSB 5-1, and Santa Barbara’s playoff run was cut short as Arizona State took the game 13-9.

“I’m pretty sure we beat [ASU] in every category except the scoreboard,” Waibel said. “The offense was working well and we took the right shots, but we hit the pipe five to six times and players in front of the net another five to six times. Some days [the shots] fall and some days they don’t.”

Though the Gauchos fell short of their ultimate goal, Coach Waibel is proud of the progress his young team made over the course of the season. After starting off 1-3, the Gauchos only got better as the season progressed.

“We have a strong, young class that is now battle tested in the league,” Waibel said. “We expect to make sure the selection committee is not a factor when we earn a bid to nationals next year.”

The semifinal clash with Arizona State marked the last collegiate game for nine UCSB seniors. Among those leaving are goalie Zack Carson and captains Ryan Souza and Ryan Sanders. Despite losing these key contributors, the future is bright for the Gauchos with a crop of new talent coming in next Fall.