As a major university without a football team-a mixed blessing, in this day and age-UCSB has been working to promote its athletic programs in creative ways. It has come up with more themes than Disneyland. Encompassing them all is the slogan “Dare to Be Great,” which Mark Massari, the director of athletics, calls “our mantra, our attitude, our vision, our rally cry.”
Among the initiatives that have come forth from Gaucholand in the past year are Gauchos Give (free tickets and charity drives); the Blue-Green Rivalry (a series with Cal Poly that promotes environmental sustainability); Legends of the Dome (honoring past volleyball and basketball greats); Ole (the new mascot); Her Time (connecting Gaucho women’s teams with community women); the Gaucho Order (everybody who has earned a letter as a UCSB athlete); and, most vitally, the Gaucho Fund (the pool of support from outside donors).
To affirm that supporting athletic scholarships is a worthwhile investment, UCSB has publicized the 82-percent graduation rate of its athletes (better than UCLA, Cal, and the national average); and it came up with a more personal plan last week. Associate Athletics Director Steve O’Brien presided over a dinner at which the donors from the community -lauded as Living Scholars-broke bread with their scholarship recipients, 44 Gaucho athletes.
All the students stood and thanked their supporters. Two of them, water polo player Milos Golic and track and field athlete Kayla Smith, elaborated on their growth at UCSB. “This unique experience will stick with me the rest of my life,” said Golic, a native of Serbia. “This school is a place of comfort and commitment,” said Smith, acknowledging that the athletes have it good in many ways and are called to put forth their best efforts. “We have more to compete for than ourselves.” Smith practices the throws (shot put, discus, javelin) while pursuing a double-major in psychology and sociology with an education minor.
“UCSB athletes cannot be one-dimensional,” Massari said. “They have to be good athletes, good students, good persons, and give back to the community.”
Men’s soccer coach Tim Vom Steeg said the Gauchos could not have risen to national prominence without boosting their scholarship level. Vom Steeg took a generous donation and recruited such players as Tony Lochhead, now a New Zealand World Cup defender, who helped UCSB reach the NCAA final in 2004. The Gauchos won the national title in 2006 and will host the 2010 College Cup-the NCAA Final Four-a year from now. “We fought the East Coast bias” to land the soccer championship, Massari said.
The soccer facility, Meredith Field at Harder Stadium, will be spruced up to show off Santa Barbara on national television next year. There are several other facility improvements on the school’s ambitious wish list, including a new aquatics center for intercollegiate swimming and water polo, and lighting for night baseball at an upgraded Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.
UCSB is partners with the Santa Barbara Foresters, one of the nation’s top amateur baseball clubs, on the Uyesaka Stadium project. They have announced a special fundraiser will take place February 5, a private engagement with former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. Visit UCSBgauchos.com for information.
HOOP ACTION: In UCSB’s last home game before the New Year, the Gaucho women will take on Pepperdine at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 20. The Gauchos entered the week on a two-game winning streak, defeating Oregon State at Corvallis and Cal State Bakersfield at the Thunderdome, before facing UCLA on Tuesday. Pepperdine’s Waves recently defeated Purdue and San Diego State. : It’s tournament time for high school basketball. Carpinteria will host seven boys’ teams at its Jim Bashore Holiday Cage Classic beginning Friday and concluding Tuesday (no games Sunday). The Santa Barbara High School Tournament of Champions features 32 girls’ teams, including five CIF champions. It starts Saturday and continues Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The primary court will be at S.B. High, but with 16 games a day, the San Marcos and Dos Pueblos gyms also will be busy.
HIGH CALIBER: Two of Southern California’s best prep soccer teams take the field at Peabody Stadium at 4 p.m. on Friday when St. Francis (La Canada) plays the Santa Barbara Dons. : There are four marquee matches in girls’ water polo on Friday (Coronado at Dos Pueblos at 5pm and Fullerton Rosary at Santa Barbara at 6pm) and Saturday (Coronado-Santa Barbara at 10am and Rosary-Dos Pueblos at 11am).