One game holds the fate of the UCSB women’s soccer team. On Sunday, the Gauchos will go on the road to play UC Davis with the possibility of earning a berth to the Big West Tournament if they come out with a win.
Santa Barbara (9-8-1 overall, 3-4 conference) is currently tied for fourth place in the Big West with UC Riverside but is not in control of its destiny by any means. Long Beach State has two more games left and can jump the Gauchos in the standings with two victories. The Aggies (5-8-3 overall, 2-3-1 conference) also have a shot of taking the final spot in the playoffs with a win and losses by other teams.
It’s been a while since UCSB has gotten this close to the postseason. Two seasons ago, the Gauchos finished last in the conference and last year they finished second to last. This is easily the program’s most important match since 2009 when they competed in the final of the Big West Tournament.
“We’re in playoff mode now. We have to get a result if we want to continue,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “One of our goals all year has been to get to the Big West Tournament; clearly the only shot is to get a result, to get a win.”
The Gauchos have overcome their recent injuries to remain in contention this late into the conference season. In its last game, UCSB played without as many as seven starters, including freshman defender Sydney Fuertes. Fuertes had previously started all games in the season before her injury.
Filling in the gap on defense left by Fuertes has been freshman Kailey Hackett and sophomore Savannah Francis. Despite the inexperience of both players, they have been helped by the experience of senior defender Taylor Gehring, junior midfielder Miranda Cornejo and sophomore goalkeeper Beth Ritter. The trio has helped UCSB to the second best goals against average in the league (0.86).
“The team has only conceded 16 goals out of 18 games,” Stumpf said. “I would say those three specifically have kept us in more games more than anything.”
Against UC Davis, the Gauchos will have a favorable matchup on defense considering the Aggies have a conference-low 13 goals scored in the entire year and have been shutout on six occasions on the year. Yet, the Gauchos will have to deal with UCD having home-field advantage.
“There are no easy teams out there; it’s going to be tough. They have a system we like playing against, so some people are going to have to step up,” Stumpf said. “We’re still going to have to defend as well as we have in the first 18 games of the year.”
On offense, UCSB is led by senior forward Allie Ariniello and junior midfielder Madison Beckley; each are tied with a team-high five goals. Ariniello uses her size to overwhelm her opponents and has been the clinical finisher on the team.
Meanwhile, Beckley has been the spark off the bench, contributing with three assists as well. Together, they have put UCSB in third in league with 21 goals.
Kick-off for Sunday’s game is scheduled at 2 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of October 31, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Magali Gauthier of The Daily Nexus.