Stephen Manga/Daily Nexus

Following a dramatic late goal that propelled the UCSB women’s soccer team over UC Riverside to hand the Highlanders their first loss of the season, the women’s soccer team is back in action Sunday as it takes on Long Beach State on the road.

Long Beach’s rollercoaster season has led them to a 6-4-2 overall record while the 49ers have a 1-0-1 record in Big West play. Beach resides in the fifth spot of the Big West standings while UCSB is a daunting matchup for any team it faces. The Gauchos remain in the No. 2 spot in the conference, but last weeks win against formerly unbeaten Riverside propelled them into a contending spot.

The Gauchos had high expectations heading into league play and the first three games have diminished any doubt about this team’s legitimacy. In his twentieth year with Santa Barbara, Head Coach Paul Stumpf has put a major emphasis and clarity on the goals he has set for the Gauchos this year.

“There are eight conference games and we’ve got to win four. Four wins and twelve points has gotten teams into the Big West Tournament,” remarked Coach Stumpf when discussing his game plan for conference matchups.

Santa Barbara has two wins and six points in the standings from three conference matchups and is already halfway closer to Stumpf’s four-win goal to get into the Big West Tournament. The squad nearly swept its first three conference games, but it lost a 2-1 nail biter to UC Irvine in double overtime.

Much of that success is accredited to junior Captain Shaelan Murison who leads the Big West with 9 goals and 22 overall points, including one that came in the 84th minute to hand UC Riverside its first lost of the season.

Murison quarterbacks this Gaucho offense from the wing as she tops out the Big West with 4.14 shots per game. On top of that, the junior is tied for second in the conference in assists with 4 on the year, solely behind her fellow teammate, senior midfielder Mallory Hromatko who champions the Big West in her passing with 6 assists of her own.

On the road this season, the Gauchos have a 4-3 record heading into their match with Long Beach State. This will be the finale of their recent 3-game road trip as the ‘Chos went 1-1 in the first two games over the away stretch.

Although the 49ers reside in the middle of the Big West Standings early on during conference play, this team has faced some stout competition early on in the year. Projected as the No. 2 team in the Big West preseason rankings, Beach has played four top-25 ranked opponents, including suffering shutout losses to both No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 USC.

Yet for a team that has played such prominent talent this season, the Niners thrive at home. Long Beach boasts a 4-1-1 home record on the year and looks to remain sturdy while facing an imposing Gauchos squad.

Senior midfielder Dana Fujikuni leads the charge for the Niners with 4 goals and 3 assists on the year. Fujikuni is accurate on her strikes as 64.7% of her shots are on target. She is dangerous in crunch time as well with a game-winner against San Diego State during non-conference play.

The Gauchos (9-5, 2-1) travel to Long Beach (6-4-2, 1-0-1) on Sunday evening Santa Barbara looks to power through another prominent Big West foe to remain keen on a Big West Championship.

A version of this story appeared on page 7 of the Oct. 11 print edition of the Daily Nexus.