Only 48 teams in the nation remain in the chase for the NCAA Championship, and by the time the UCSB men’s soccer team takes the field Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, that number will be down to 32.
UCSB, which received the No. 10 seed in the tournament, will face the winner of Penn State and St. Francis Brooklyn, who square off today. Santa Barbara enters the tournament with a 12-5-3 overall record and 7-0-3 mark in the Big West and will host the winner of today’s game Sunday at Harder Stadium.
“It’s good for us, obviously, because I think it’s very difficult to have to play Thursday night and then spend an entire day traveling, so their preparation for the game will be very minimal,” Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “We, of course, aren’t sure who we’re playing until Thursday, but it is obviously much better playing at home and not having to travel across the country.”
As one of the top 16-ranked teams in the tournament, the Gauchos received a first-round bye in the tournament. Santa Barbara secured a tournament seed despite falling in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament to Cal State Northridge.
“We’re excited for the tournament,” senior defensive midfielder Fifi Baiden said. “We’re fortunate enough to get a bye and a home game and we’re fired up to get a win off a tough loss.”
Santa Barbara will however play shorthanded on Sunday. Junior defender Kevin Garcia-Lopez and freshman midfielder Drew Murphy both received red cards during last week’s loss to Northridge and will be forced to sit out of Sunday’s match.
Additionally, the Gauchos may be without a pair of seniors in forward Achille Campion and defender Peter Schmetz due to injury.
“We aren’t really probably going to get an answer [on injuries] until closer to Saturday,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re pretty optimistic that Campion will be playing, at least try to play. Schmetz is probably a little bit of a longer shot. At the end of the day, it’ll be a game time decision really.”
Penn State enters today’s contest as the host, finishing the regular season with an 11-5-2 overall and 5-1 mark in the Big Ten, good enough for a regular season conference title.
“No matter who we play, it’s all going to come down to who has the energy and who’s ready to show up on Sunday,” Baiden said. “No matter who we play, we just need to make sure we come out with a ton of energy and make sure we get our goals to get the win.”
St. Francis Brooklyn, meanwhile, finished the season 12-5-1 and 4-3 in conference, closing out the season with a three-game winning streak and a Northeast Conference Tournament title.
“Our focus has really been on our own preparation. We do know a lot more about Penn State because they’re a little bit more out there, they’ve played some people we’re familiar with,” Vom Steeg said. “We literally know nothing about St. Francis. What we do know is someone is going to have to travel 3,000 miles to have to play us on Sunday.”
Joining UCSB in the NCAA Tournament from the Big West include No. 15 Northridge and No. 13 UC Irvine. This is the first time in conference history three teams have qualified for the tournament, and even more impressively, the first time three teams have received a top 16 ranking and a first round bye.
“It is historical. To have the three teams out of the Big West seeded that’s really remarkable and speaks a lot about the quality of the conference,” Vom Steeg said. “Realistically, think about how tough it was to go undefeated in conference play during a year when two other teams are seeded in the tournament.”
This is the 11th time in the last 12 seasons the Gauchos have made a postseason appearance. UCSB is 11-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament matches played at home and can add to its already impressive postseason legacy on Sunday.
“We’re just trying to find a way to win on Sunday and if we can do that I think we have a good chance to win the next game,” Vom Steeg said. “It’s hard enough to miss two all-league performers but now you add two other starters and it’s going to make it real tough.”
Kickoff for Sunday’s NCAA Tournament second round match is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Harder Stadium.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of November 21’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Dustin Harris of the Daily Nexus.