Nexus File Photo

The Santa Barbara women’s soccer team earned the No. 2 seed in the Big West Tournament and is scheduled to face off against UC Irvine on Thursday evening in the conference Semifinals.

The Gauchos (12-6-1 overall, 5-2-1 Big West, 16 points) leapt over Irvine with results in both of their final two matches to vault into second place as Big West regular season play came to a close on Sunday evening. Although UCSB finished with a better record, the No. 3 Anteaters (8-6-4, 4-1-3, 15 points) will draw home field advantage as the entire 2018 Big West Tournament is scheduled to take place at Anteater Stadium in Irvine, Calif.

UCSB heads into the match following a draw against Cal Poly that gave them the edge over Irvine in the standings. The Gauchos had a chance to secure first place in the conference with a win against the Mustangs but couldn’t hold onto their lead as Poly pulled even at 1-1 to shock the ‘Chos and hand them their first draw of the year in the final match of the regular season.

Looking forward to their match with Irvine, the Gauchos will rely on Head Coach Paul Stumpf’s high-powered offense that leads the Big West with 31 goals scored this season. Quarterbacked by junior winger Shaelan Murison who leads the ‘Chos with 10 goals on the season, good for second in the Big West.

Late game heroics have been a common occurrence for the Gauchos this season as 21 out of 31 (68%) total goals this year have come in the second half of games. In each of the Gaucho’s most recent three wins, the team has come alive in the second half to score a game-winning goal in the 70th minute or later.

The Gauchos ferocious crunch-time attack faces stout competition this week as Irvine allows a mere .65 goals per game, good for the least amount of goals against per game in Big West matches. Junior keeper Maddie Newsom will hold it down for the Anteaters as she boasts the second-best shots saved percentage with a .846 save ratio. Newsom’s mark is only second to Gaucho junior keeper Hannah DeWeese who has the top save percentage in the Big West with an 85% save rate.

“With the help of this team and how well we’re doing in general, I haven’t had to make too many big saves,” gleamed DeWeese. “The other goalies, Nat [Hill] and Mackenzie [Hatanaka], they’ve helped to build my confidence; they’ve helped me play how I’m playing… We just need to keep playing our game and stay focused.”

The veteran leadership for the Gauchos this year has been a huge asset in their success as the six returning seniors played a significant role in earning the No. 2 seed in Coach Stumpf’s 20th season with the ‘Chos.

“Those six kids are going to be difficult to replace; not just for soccer, but the character, the leadership, and the competitiveness.” said Stumpf about the squad’s senior leadership. “People on the outside do not know just how much work these young ladies put in… The seniors, I hope they know deep down just how much they mean to me. They’re just a fantastic group of young ladies.”

The seniors that Stumpf was referring to include Jessica Clegg, Ryan Kokoska, Madeline Gibson, Mallory Hromatko, Sydney Magnin and Jessica Parque. Heading into their final set of games with UCSB, the weathered and experienced group of leaders look to reach the Big West Conference Finals for the first time since 2009.

The No. 2 Gauchos travel to Irvine, Calif. on Thursday to face off with the No. 3 UC Irvine Anteaters in the Big West Tournament Semifinals at Anteater Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kick-off.

A version of this story appeared on page 7 of the Nov. 1st print edition of the Daily Nexus.