Only a year removed from a crushing semifinal exit to underdog Colorado, #3 UC Santa Barbara was eliminated from title contention by #9 Colorado State in the WDIA National Championship tournament after suffering an 8-7 loss in the quarterfinal round. Despite recording wins over #21 Oregon and #6 Brigham Young, a loss in the fifth-place game to #1 Santa Clara put the stamp on a pedestrian postseason performance.
UCSB’s opener against Oregon quickly proved to be a mismatch. Junior midfielder Ashley Antoon-Algieri scored the first goal 48 seconds into the game, sparking a six-goal run that was broken only when the Ducks got their first goal off a free position shot. Over the course of the game, Santa Barbara’s stifling defense did not allow Oregon to score from the field as all of their opponents scores came from the free position. In total, the Gauchos only allowed the Ducks to take 10 shots, while the Gauchos took 37 of their own.
“Our defense played well in regards to positioning and not over-committing but it was our midfield play and our offense that led to all our possessions,” Head Coach Paul Ramsey said.
Up 8-2 after the first half, Ramsey cleared his bench for the second half to rest his starters, and the Gauchos cruised to an 18-4 win.
The next day, Ramsey’s squad faced Colorado State in a game that would prove to be far more challenging than that of the previous day. The Rams’ high-energy defense forced the Gaucho offense out of rhythm, but it was plain misfortune that ended up costing UCSB in the end. Though the Rams scored four goals in the first half, they only earned two of them. The first of their pair of gifts came off a pass that dropped in front of the Gaucho goal and slowly dribbled in. The second came in the form of an own goal committed by Santa Barbara.
“I don’t think [those goals] affected morale but it was an indication that we lost our focus too many times during this game,” Ramsey said. “We did not play even close to our potential.”
The two miscues proved to be the difference in the game. UCSB played the second half to a 4-4 tie, but because of those goals the Rams took the game by one.
“If it wasn’t for [sophomore goalie] Jeni Centner’s 14 saves we would have lost by a bunch,” Ramsey said of his stopper’s defensive effort. “She is the only reason we were close in that game.”
With the loss to Colorado State, UCSB was out of the running for grand prize, but they were not out of the tournament, and on Friday they faced BYU in a placement game. The Gauchos took the first half 8-5 and were able to hold back the surging Cougar offense just enough to take a 12-11 win. The win was due in large part to the performance of senior attacker Samantha Lutz who, in addition to scoring a goal, had six assists to six different players, a feat that Ramsey had never seen nor even heard of.
“Sam went through so much anguish missing the first eight games of the season it was nice to see her perform like that on a national stage,” Ramsey said.
With that win the Gauchos moved on to the fifth-place game against Santa Clara. UCSB found itself down by four goals at two different points in the game. They were down 5-1 around 18 minutes into the first half and then 8-4 just under 18 minutes into the second half. In both instances, however, UCSB was able to fight its way back.
With 2:41 left in the game, sophomore attacker Meg Cruse fed a pass to Lutz who found the net to give the Gauchos a 9-8 lead. At this point, all the Gauchos had to do was hold the ball. However, a bad pass with 35 seconds left gave the Broncos a final chance to tie it up and force overtime, which they did 19 seconds before the final whistle.
“[The comeback] took a huge amount of effort,” Ramsey said. “Perhaps that’s what led to another loss of focus at the end when we turned it over.”
Santa Clara took the lead two minutes into overtime, and as a result UCSB decided to use their goalie to cover an extra attacker while they double teamed the ball. The gamble didn’t pay off as Santa Clara scored on the open net with 37 seconds left, cementing an 11-9 victory in the Broncos’ favor.
UCSB ends their season with a 15-5 overall record, including a 14-5 showing in the WDIA.