Everything fell into place for the UCSB men’s soccer team last Saturday — including the 10 shots by Cal Poly that fell, or in some cases were propelled, into the reach of Ben Roach, the Gauchos’ sophomore goalkeeper.
Roach, his stature looming ever larger since his Santa Barbara High glory days, made a career-high 10 saves and posted his ninth shutout of the season as the Gauchos defeated the Mustangs, 2-0. The victory lifted them into second place in the Big West and spared them from having to play in the first round of the conference tournament. UCSB will face either UC Irvine or Cal State Northridge in a semifinal match at 7 p.m. Saturday, November 9, at Harder Stadium.
The outcome significantly improved the Gauchos’ chances of getting into the NCAA tournament, which has not included them in the 48-team bracket since 2015. It’s the longest gap they’ve endured since they entered the fray in 2002, with the first of 10 consecutive appearances that included a runner-up finish in 2004 and a national title in 2006.
A victory Saturday would solidify their cause. A loss would cloud the picture.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Speaking of clouds, it’s too bad the smoke that drifted into the area from a Ventura County fire prompted the school district to move the Santa Barbara High-Dos Pueblos football game to Santa Maria last Friday. There would have been many more fans to see the Dons win their first undisputed league championship since 2001 had the game stayed in town.
The best football team to come out of Santa Barbara in years — the 2017 Bishop Diego Cardinals — also had to spend their finest moments 60 miles from home. The terrible Thomas Fire spewed smoke from Ventura to Santa Barbara for two weeks in December, and the Cardinals had to decamp to Cal Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks for the State Division 3 semifinal and championship games that they won.
The Dons have been homeless for two football seasons because of the prolonged Peabody Stadium restoration project, but at least they will be in town Friday night — at San Marcos High — for the first CIF playoff game that they have hosted since 2012. Barring any conflagrations or other disasters, that is.
UCSB WOMEN’S SOCCER: Back to football of the no-hands kind, UCSB’s women finished in a three-way tie for second in the Big West soccer standings and will face Cal State Northridge in the conference tournament semifinals Thursday night at Cal State Fullerton. The competition for an NCAA berth appears wide open. UCSB went 1-1-1 against the other semifinalists, losing to CSUN, 1-0; tying Fullerton, 1-1; and thumping Hawai’i, 4-1.
“We want to win it,” Gaucho senior Shaelan Murison said. “This is my senior year. I’m going all out.”
Murison scored her 17th goal of the season — a rocket from 25 yards out — and assisted on the other Sunday as the Gauchos took a 2-0 lead over visiting UC Irvine, only to give up two goals in the 80th minute and wind up in a somewhat disappointing 2-2 tie.
Coach Paul Stumpf hopes the Gauchos learned from their lapses. He’d like to see Murison, who has improved her fitness from a part-time player to one who’s ready to attack for 90 minutes a game, or more, go out with some postseason success. “Shae has grown up in every way,” he said. “She’s strong mentally and physically.”
WESTMONT SOCCER: Westmont College also has enjoyed a banner soccer season, with both the women’s and men’s teams winning Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season championships. The men went undefeated in the conference (7-0-1) for the first time in 30 years. The Warriors will host the GSAC semifinals and finals next week, the men Wednesday-Friday (Nov. 13-15), and the women Thursday-Saturday (Nov. 14-16).
COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: In college women’s volleyball, UCSB and Westmont are both locked in three-way ties atop their respective conference standings. The Gauchos came up short 17-15 in the fifth set of an epic battle before almost 7,000 fans in Hawai‘i. Their trip to Cal Poly this Saturday will decide who remains with the Rainbow Wahine in the Big West’s penthouse. Westmont plays twice at home this weekend trying to bring Ruth McGolpin a GSAC title in her rookie year as head coach.
UCSB BASKETBALL TIPS OFF: Meanwhile, the basketball season is upon us. UCSB, Westmont, and SBCC all have their teams playing this week. The Gaucho men play a preseason statement game at UCLA at 4 p.m. Sunday. They have beaten the Bruins only once in 22 tries, by a 61-60 score in 2003.
Third-year head coach Joe Pasternack says the Gauchos are the deepest team he’s had here — enabling them to go out and be more aggressive in pressing and trapping — as well as “the highest character group of kids I’ve ever been around.”
Look for 6′5″ junior guard Brandon Cyrus to bring a lot of character to the Gauchos. He is a transfer from DePaul who started 55 of the 63 games he played for the Blue Demons. Defensive toughness was his stock in trade, but in his penultimate game there, he scored a career-high 20 points in a three-point loss to No. 3-ranked Xavier.
“Cyrus has so much experience defending the best players in the country,” Pasternack said. “His length, athleticism, and tenacity are going to give us something we’ve not had.”
Cyrus made the transition from the Big East to the Big West in part to be closer to his parents, who live in San Diego. Also, he said, “I want to win a lot of games,” and UCSB has done a lot of that since Pasternack took over, collecting 23 wins in 2017-18 and 22 last season, when Cyrus was practicing at UCSB as a redshirt.
“I got closer to the guys,” he said. “We’re all best friends off the court, every single guy. If you’re down, they’ll always be there for you. It’s always easier to fight for somebody who has your back. I’ll take any of them down a dark alley with me.”
Cyrus and Matt Freeman, a 6′10″ graduate transfer from Oklahoma, are strong additions to a Gaucho team that has four returning starters, including two members of the preseason All-Big West team: senior guard Max Heidegger and sophomore forward Amadou Sow.