Scholastic soccer success in Santa Barbara did not start with UCSB’s surge in the men’s NCAA tournament during the past eight years. Santa Barbara High consistently has fielded a winning team. At the dawn of the CIF Southern Section’s sponsorship of boys soccer, the Dons won three consecutive championships (1975-’76-’77). It got tougher for them to reach the very top after soccer participation swelled throughout Southern California, but the Dons won additional section titles in 1995 and 2001 (a co-championship with Brea Olinda).
The Dons currently are ranked number one in CIF Division II with a record of 19-1-1. They are gunning for their seventh straight Channel League championship, and today (Thu., Jan. 29) they square off with co-leader Ventura at 5 p.m. at Peabody Stadium. The teams played to a 3-3 tie in Ventura two weeks ago.
Santa Barbara prevailed over two inspired cross-town rivals last week, blanking San Marcos 2-0 and holding off Dos Pueblos 2-1 on a rain-soaked field. In each game, the Dons benefitted from an “own goal,” mounting such pressure that opposing defenders inadvertently put the ball in their own net. “It seems we can never beat them,” said Dos Pueblos goalkeeper Tony Mendoza, who stopped a penalty kick to keep the Chargers close. “They don’t make mistakes. We do.”
From one end of the field to the other, the Dons possess skill at every position. “Our strength is our chemistry,” said Todd Heil, in his 10th season as Santa Barbara’s head coach. “This group of players gets along incredibly well.”
When the Dons are hitting on all cylinders, their brand of soccer resembles Brazil’s “beautiful game.” They put on a dazzling display in a 6-0 rout of Buena that gave Heil his 200th win. “Todd’s got the team putting the ball on the ground, moving it east-west as well as north-south,” said Rudy Ybarra, the star of Santa Barbara’s first CIF champions and coach of the ’95 team. “Work the ball around, get it behind the opponent with a chance to score-that’s the trademark of the Dons.”
Santa Barbara attracts top players from club soccer programs and then melds them into a unit under the team’s traditional battle cry: “Nosotros.” “There’s more emotion when you’re representing your school,” said goalkeeper Emmanuel Angulo. “There’s more history here than in the clubs.”
Angulo has recorded 15 shutouts with the help of his defense. In practice drills against three forwards at a time, more often than not Angulo keeps the ball out of the net. “He’s hard to score on,” said midfielder Jesse Gonzalez. “It’s his awareness of where he is.” Gonzalez and Peter Aguilar each have scored 10 goals to lead the Dons’ balanced scoring. Most of their starters-including defender Brian Joseff and attackers Christian Pardo, Justin Jimenez, and Gonzalez-are juniors.
With rematches against San Marcos and Dos Pueblos coming up, Heil is not even thinking about a bid for the school’s sixth CIF title. “Right now we want to get to the playoffs,” he said. “Winning another league championship is a tough goal.”
GAME OF THE WEEK: The Big West preseason poll predicted that UCSB’s men would sail along near the top of the conference basketball standings. Well, that ship sank last week when defeats at UC Davis and Pacific dropped the Gauchos to the bottom. Tonight (Thu., Jan. 29), they’ll reach for a lifeboat when they host Cal State Northridge, the preseason favorite to win the championship. It’s a pivotal game for the Gauchos, who go back on the road next week. If you can’t make it to the Thunderdome, the game will be televised at 8 p.m. on ESPNU and broadcast on AM radio (1490).
GOLDA, SILVER, AND BRONZE: Two-time Olympic water polo player Natalie Golda will be the featured speaker on Monday, February 2, at the 23rd annual Women and Girls in Sports Luncheon, hosted by the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table. Golda, a former winner of the Cutino Award (college water polo’s Heisman), collected a silver medal with the U.S. Olympic team last summer and a bronze medal in 2004. Hundreds of female athletes will be in attendance at the most popular sports luncheon of the year. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. at Warren Hall at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. For reservations, call 705-4949.
WRITE STUFF: Sports-minded girls (ages 7-13) have until this weekend to enter an essay-writing contest, with prizes to be awarded at the UCSB-UC Irvine women’s basketball game on Saturday, February 7. Visit UCSBGauchos.com for the rules.