Gaucho soccer received word of its NCAA tournament seeding Monday, when the selection committee announced that the team will face Denver in the first round at Harder Stadium this Thursday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. UCSB earned an automatic bid to the tournament after taking down Cal State Fullerton 3-1 in the Big West Tournament finals.
“Obviously we’re always excited to play in front of the home crowd,” senior defender Michael Boxall said. “And then the added importance of it being an NCAA tournament game makes it a lot more exciting. I’m looking forward to getting on the field with the guys again and hopefully making it not the last time we get together.”
The single-elimination tournament features 48 teams from across the country competing for an opportunity to come to Santa Barbara in December to play for the College Cup, which includes the two semifinal matches as well as the championship round.
Denver finished in second place in the MPSF this season, boasting a 9-6-4 overall record. Jarrod Stigall led the team with eight goals, good for second in the conference. Stigall also added eight assists to lead the Pioneers to a 6-2-2 conference record.
Though the Gauchos have not seen Denver since a 2001 1-0 loss, there is a connection between the two teams. Sophomore forward Sam Garza, UCSB’s goals leader with nine, transferred from Denver at the beginning of the 2009 season. With the Pioneers, Garza scored four goals and was picked as MPSF Newcomer of the Year and was a Second Team All-MPSF selected.
“I’m really excited,” Garza said. “When I first saw it my stomach dropped and I was like, ‘no way,’ but it just had to happen. They’re a good team. I still know all the guys, so it’ll be fun to face them again.”
The winner of the match will head north to face UC Berkeley — which has a first-round bye — in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. Other seeded teams in UCSB’s portion of the 48-team bracket include #3 Akron, #11 Connecticut and #14 Indiana.
“It won’t be an easy game by any means,” Garza said. “But if we just play our game, we’re capable of beating any team in the country.”