Four games remain in the Big West season and, currently, there is a three-way tie for the fourth and final playoff spot. Amongst these teams is the UCSB women’s soccer squad, a team that will play three of its final four matches of the season at home.
As a whole, Santa Barbara is a tough team to pin down. The Gauchos boast a 9-6 overall mark, 2-2 in league — Tied with both Hawai’i and CSUN who UCSB has yet to face — but it seems like every time they turn a corner, they cannot get that big win.
Two weeks ago, UCSB handed UC Riverside its first loss of the entire year besting them 1-0 at the Highlanders home stadium, but last week, the Gauchos lost 1-0 at Long Beach State. Playing at Long Beach is by no means easy, but a win shows that this team is capable of running the table.
That being said, Santa Barbara still has four games played over two weeks to not only secure a playoff spot, but also show why it is a dangerous team.
That will begin with Friday’s match as UCSB hosts last place Cal State Fullerton. CSUF comes into town with just a few wins on the year sitting at 3-10-2 overall, 0-3-1 in league play.
For Santa Barbara, this game could not have come at a better time as a much-needed win would be great for them as the battle for playoff positioning continues.
Of course, in order for UCSB to even pull off the win, it will need to rely heavily on forward Shaelan Murison. Right now, Muison is still the league’s leader in goals (9), points (22) and shots (62).
The junior has also scored in two of her last three contests but will look to bounce back from an 0-4 performance against the 49ers last season.
Assisting her on the offensive side of the ball will be senior Mallory Hrmatko whose six assists on the year lead the entire Big West Conference. The midfielder also makes a great impact on defense as she has won a Big West Player of the Week award for her performance on that side of the ball this season.
As a whole, UCSB will need to rely on its offense if it hopes to win. In games where the Gauchos have been held to just one or zero scores, they are 1-5 on the year and have been shutout in four of those six contests.
Facing CSUF, UCSB will likely find it a bit easier to score than against other opponents. Currently, the Titans have allowed the second most goals per game at 1.61. Additionally, in its four conference games, CSUF has allowed eight goals.
Still, no win is easy and if the Titans hope to pick up their first win of conference play then they will need to rely on senior Nano Oronoz whose five goals on the year leads the team.
Other key contributers will need to be freshman Kristen Swales who has four goals on the year but also junior Atlanta Primus who is top 10 in the league in assists (3) and goals (4).
While Santa Barbara’s offense will be the key factor in Friday’s match, Sunday’s match against Hawai’i will be the exact opposite. Currently, Hawai’i is 7-5-1 overall on the year and 2-2 in conference.
The Rainbow Wahine have scored seven goals in just the four conference matches, the most in the Big West while also having done it efficiently earning a .159 shooting percentage another league best.
Leading Hawai’i has been senior duo Raisa Strom-Okimoto and Leialoha Medeiros who have combined to score 15 goals on the of the teams total 23 scores on the year.
Sunday’s match also elicits even more intrigue as both squads have beaten UC Davis and lost in double overtime to UC Irvine showing just how evenly matched they are.
Regardless of how the year has gone, UCSB has four games to prove it belongs. The past two years has been filled with missed opportunities, and if they don’t want to make it a fourth, the Gauchos need not just one but two wins this weekend.
UCSB will take on CSUF at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 19 at Harder Stadium. Santa Barbara will then host Hawai’i at 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 21.
A version of this story appeared on page 8 of the Oct. 18 print edition of the Daily Nexus.