With a roster consisting of 22 underclassmen, the UCSB women’s soccer team will try to overcome inexperience and rebound from last year’s disappointing last place Big West finish. While projected to place fifth in conference, and already at 0-2 on the season, the team is still optimistic that they are ready to compete.

“Realistically we want to climb five or six spots in conference this year,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “I think the girls we brought in and the girls we brought back definitely put us in contention.”

In 20 games last season, the Gauchos finished 7-11-2 overall (2-6 conference), accumulating a league-low six points. In those 20 games, Santa Barbara managed to score only 19 goals, including a 269-minute scoreless streak that stretched out to four games at one point in the season.

Only one returner from last season’s team will start upfront in sophomore attacking center midfielder Indiana Mead. Freshman midfielder Sara Feder will start as the team’s lone forward. Freshmen attacking midfielders Angelisa Cortez and Mayra Almazan will play on opposite sides of Mead to solidify the offense.

“[Offense has] definitely been an issue we struggled with last year,” Stumpf said. “We are going to be very young up front… We’re going to be using the whole preseason to hopefully get them more and more comfortable in conference and the college game.”

Senior captain Erin Ortega provides needed leadership for the young Gauchos. As defensive midfielder, Ortega played in all 20 games last season, scoring three goals and notching two assists, while garnering Second Team All-Big West accolades and entering this year on the Preseason All-Conference team.

“Leadership on this team is a hard role because there are so many young girls that are looking up to you,” Ortega said. “I always have to watch over my shoulder and try and lead by example. I’m going to try to have the best season I’ve had here.” Four Gauchos will anchor the defensive line, including surprise choice senior Dyanne Anderson who started on offense last year, scoring a team-high four goals.

If UCSB plans on competing in the Big West, junior goalkeeper Makenna Henry will have to come up big against opponents. A Preseason All-Conference selection, Henry was a bright spot for the team last season. She recorded five clean sheets last season and looks to be the big defensive stopper for the Gauchos this year as well.

“We need [Henry] to make the good saves all the time and we need her to make the great saves every now and then to keep us in the game,” Stumpf said. “Her foot skills keep getting better and her confidence keeps growing.”

UCSB will be tested early on in the season, playing 10 non-conference games, including matchups against Indiana and No. 19 Illinois. Conference play begins with UC Davis visiting Harder Stadium on Sept. 28. The Gauchos close the regular season against rival Cal Poly on Oct. 28.