Christine Maurer dives to intercept a pass. Stephen Manga/Daily Nexus

After a productive offseason, the UCSB women’s soccer team will begin their season this Saturday against Westmont in an exhibition game at Harder Stadium. Santa Barbara is looking to build off of their successful campaign last year as they finished the year with a record of 13-7-1.

The Westmont Warriors began their season this past Thursday when they fell to Southern Oregon by a score of 2-1. Despite a hot start with senior midfielder Brooke Porter scoring in the eighth minute of the contest, the Warriors gave up two second-half goals and were unable to get the equalizer.

The Warriors are led by junior goalkeeper Gabi Haw, who is the reigning Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Co-Player of the year. She finished with four saves against Southern Oregon. Senior forward Maddi Berthoud and sophomore midfielder Teagan Matye have led the offensive attack for Westmont and will look to make more of an impact this upcoming Saturday.

Even though the result will not count toward the Gauchos’ overall record, it will be crucial for Santa Barbara to remain focused and play hard as they develop an identity for this season.

There is a lot of hype around this Gauchos’ squad as they have been picked to finish second in the Big West Conference this upcoming season. Many attribute this to senior forward Shaelan Murison, who finished last year with ten goals. In order for the ‘Chos to have success this year, they will look to Murison to finish off scoring opportunities in addition to being a playmaker for her teammates.

With seven starters returning for Santa Barbara, there is a sense that the team will be able to build on their chemistry from last season. One of the biggest returners is senior goalkeeper Hanna DeWeese. DeWeese is the anchor of the Gauchos’ defense and has proven to be a force in front of the goal with her quick instincts and decisive decision-making.

Despite the return of several starters, there are a couple of newcomers who will surely have a role this upcoming season. Junior defender Emma Vanderhyden seems to be a popular choice for being the player who could potentially have the biggest impact early on in the season. 

The Eastern Washington transfer has already played two years at the collegiate level, making it seem likely that she will be in the starting lineup. UCSB will look to Vanderhyden to stabilize the back end of the field and slow down the transition counters by their opponents.

In order for the Gauchos to improve from last season, it will be key for them to continue to grow on the offensive end of the field. With Murison most likely to be doubled by the Warriors when she enters the box area, it will be crucial for other Gauchos to step up and find the back of the net. This will not only take pressure off of Murison but also give the other Gauchos the confidence to know that they are  just as capable to score.

If UCSB is able to play each game with consistent energy and attention to detail, they will not only have a chance to win most of their games but potentially win the Big West as well. Since the team is composed of both veterans and young talent, many believe this will be the year the Gauchos win the conference title. Head coach Paul Stumpf will surely look to his seniors to provide leadership for his younger players on the pitch as well, especially in times of adversity during a game.

It all starts this Saturday when the UCSB women’s soccer team faces Westmont in an exhibition match at 5:30 p.m. at Harder Stadium.