As the first Big West game of the season approaches next week, the UCSB women’s soccer team prepares for its final preseason match against the University of Denver on Sunday. Having allowed a total of only eight goals in 10 matches, the Gauchos will continue to rely on their defense against the Pioneers on the road.

UCSB enters Sunday’s contest winners of six games this season, having lost three with one draw, and have the highest winning percentage of any team in the Big West thus far. Prior to last Sunday versus then-ranked No. 17 Texas Tech, the Gauchos were on a five-game winning streak and shut out all of it opponents during the stretch. However, Santa Barbara was victim to a defensive miscue and a free kick to fall 2-0 against the Red Raiders.

Unlike last season where the strength of the team lacked a definitive answer, this year the clear source of effectiveness for the Gauchos has been defense. What is more impressive has been the play of sophomore goalkeeper Beth Ritter, who has filled in perfectly for injured senior goalkeeper Makenna Henry. Listed at only 5’4”, Ritter currently leads the league in goals-against average with 0.41 in seven games played.

Notable results on the offensive end of the pitch can also be credited to UCSB’s good play entering its game against Denver. Contrast to the prior season where the Gauchos failed to convert on their scoring opportunities, UCSB has scored 15 goals in its games played which is tied for first in the Big West along with Cal Poly.

Although distribution of the ball has been key with eight different players scoring goals, the trio of junior midfielder Madison Beckley, senior forward Allie Ariniello and junior midfielder Indiana Mead have excelled in their roles as playmakers for the team.

Beckley and Ariniello lead the squad with three goals scored and have two assists each. Mead has scored two goals, notched two assists and done an excellent job of creating her own shots, as evident by her team-high 19 shots.

Like the Gauchos’ previous opponent, Denver comes in ranked at No. 21 in the country. The Pioneers are 7-1-1 overall on the season and will present a challenge on offense for UCSB. Senior forward Kristen Hamilton has scored seven goals in only nine games played this season and has distributed the ball as well with five assists, each statistic being a team-high.

The Pioneers have been a second-half team so far, wearing down its opponents and scoring almost twice as much after halftime than the first half. The Gauchos will also have the tough task of having to defeat Denver at home where they are unbeaten in five games this year.

Kick-off for the final non-conference match of the season on Sunday at the University of Denver is scheduled for 11 a.m.


This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.

Photo by Cedar Lay of The Daily Nexus.