After a successful final weekend of the season, the UC Santa Barbara women’s soccer team has clinched a spot in the Big West Tournament for the second straight year. A win over Riverside and a tie against Irvine secured Santa Barbara a 4-1-3 conference record and a second-place finish in the regular season conference standings. Now, the Gauchos will head to Fullerton where two more wins will clinch them their first Big West title and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.
In the semifinal, UCSB will face Cal State Northridge, the only Big West team to have defeated them during the regular season. The Gauchos and the Matadors faced off on Oct. 17 in Northridge and CSUN emerged victorious by a score of 1-0, thanks to a goal scored by Avery DeWitt in the 34th minute of that game.
Cal State Northridge is 11-6-3 on the season and 5-3 in Big West play. The team has five players who have recorded multiple goals on the season, so there are many capable offensive threats. Still, redshirt junior Bethany Fitzsimmons and sophomore Alexis White do a bulk of the scoring with 11combined goals between them.
The Matadors are by no means an elite offensive squad, but their solid team defense is capable of strangling teams and gutting out low-scoring wins. CSUN leads the Big West by a large margin with .77 goals allowed per game and they have recorded 10 shutouts, meaning they held a team scoreless in half of their games this season. They play great team defense but they are also anchored by quite possibly the best goalie in the Big West in sophomore Amanda Delgado. Delgado leads the Big West in both save percentage (.808) and goals allowed per game (.87) in just her first season as a full-time starter.
Northridge has held steady since their win over UCSB, going 2-2 in their next four games with losses against UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton. They are not on any sort of hot streak coming into this tournament, but anything can happen in two games, especially with their elite defense; the Matadors are contenders as much as anyone for the Big West crown.
UCSB is a vastly different team stylistically than CSUN because the Gauchos are a team that will go as far as their offense can take them. More specifically, the Gauchos will go as far as Shaelan Murison, frontrunner for Big West Player of the Year, can take them. That statement is not a hyperbole, because Murison has scored in 12 separate games this season, and UCSB’s record in those games is 7-0-5. Murison leads the conference in goals with 17, a mark that ties her with Jennifer Borcich for the ninth most single-season goals in UCSB history. Murison received her fourth Big West Women’s Soccer Offensive Player of the Week award last week, which is the most for any Gaucho in a single season. She has also recorded a goal or assist in eight of the last nine contests, so it is safe to say she is primed to lead the Gauchos into the Big West tournament.
But UCSB’s future does not entirely rest on Murison’s shoulders because her surrounding cast is full of excellent players such as junior Isabella Viana, who is second on the team in both goals and assists with 4 and 5, respectively. Sophomore Jessica Wright and freshman Dylan Lewis also both have 3 goals apiece this year and have been major contributors in several Gaucho wins.
UCSB will look to take the first step towards a conference title at 5 p.m. on Thursday in Fullerton.