Midway through the first half of the UCSB-Wake Forest match in the NCAA men’s soccer quarterfinals Saturday, a resounding cheer erupted in Dargan’s Irish Pub. The TV screens, which had been blacked out because of connection issues, finally lit up with the action.
Not since the Women’s World Cup last summer had the restaurant been so packed with soccer fans. They were hoping to see the Gauchos spring an upset against the No. 4–seeded Demon Deacons and become the only unseeded team to reach the 2019 College Cup, as they did in 2006 when they won the national championship.
Newlywed UCSB graduates Tim and Jenny Deakyne had followed the Gauchos to St. Louis that year and witnessed their improbable triumph. They won a penalty-kick shootout over Wake Forest in the semifinals and scored a 2-1 victory over UCLA in the title match. “We look back at ’06 as a great Gaucho moment,” Tim Deakyne said.
The Deakynes have since brought six more fans into the Gaucho fold, starting with the birth of their son T.J. in 2007. Five brothers and sisters arrived in the next 11 years. The whole family faithfully attends UCSB games. The day after William, 6, came out of the hospital, he was in a seat at Harder Stadium.
The family squeezed into the crowd next to the bar at Dargan’s and breathlessly waited for another great Gaucho moment to break out. Twice in the first half, incipient shouts of joy dissolved into groans. Thibault Candia’s shot was just off target, and Noah Billingsley’s point-blank header went into the chest of the Wake Forest goalkeeper.
Then, after the Gauchos had pressed the action for 40 minutes, Wake’s Alistair Johnston pinballed through their penalty area and emerged with a fortuitous shot into the goal. Having attained the 1-0 lead just before halftime, the Demon Deacons were able to hold off the Gauchos with their possession game in the second half.
It was not the fairy-tale result the Deakynes wanted, but it was a useful lesson in dealing with disappointment. It also relieved them of the expensive prospect of taking the whole family to the College Cup in Cary, North Carolina. Wake Forest will join Virginia, Georgetown, and Stanford in the final four.
Tim Deakyne declared that the Gauchos played “their best season in over a decade.” He added, “Too bad it came in between the College Cup last year and next year.” UCSB hosted last year’s NCAA championship, won by Maryland, and it will stage the College Cup again in 2020.
Coach Tim Vom Steeg will lose a strong contingent of seniors off this year’s Gaucho team, which went 15-5-4. But if, by some good fortune, they can go one step further next year, there will be one big, happy family in Harder Stadium.
TO THE LIMIT IN AUSTIN: The night before the soccer match, another UCSB team ended its season in spectacular fashion. The Gaucho women’s volleyball team, which had its best season (23-6) and won its first NCAA match in 15 years, took the Texas Longhorns to the limit in a second-round blockbuster.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that Texas, the No. 2 overall seed in the nation, would advance into the Sweet Sixteen. It had done so for 13 consecutive years. It had not lost a single set in a home NCAA match since 2016, a 20-set win streak. The Gauchos blew that up by winning the second set Friday, and when they went on to win the third set, Texas had seen enough of Cinderella. Urged on by a vocal crowd, the Longhorns shut down the fairy tale by scores of 25-22, 19-25, 18-25, 25-18, and 15-10.
Gaucho coach Nicole Lantagne Welch has assembled a young team with a bright future. A pair of freshmen, Tallulah Froley and Tasia Farmer, each had 13 kills against Texas and impressed ESPN commentator Karch Kiraly, the head coach of the U.S. national women’s team. “Farmer and Froley are making fearless swings against an intimidating block,” Kiraly observed.
Meanwhile, UCSB seniors Lindsey Ruddins and Torre Glasker went out in style, finishing with 23 and 12 kills, respectively.
Charlotte (Mitchel) Roach had a rollercoaster weekend watching the Gauchos compete on TV. She was an All-American volleyball player at UCSB in 1986, and she is the mother of Ben Roach, the soccer team’s sophomore goalkeeper.
Roach commended the Gaucho volleyballers for their composure in Texas, noticing that the fans behind the servers were taunting them with horn-shaped hand signals. It reminded her of the fans she encountered in Hawai‘i. “Once, I got so mad, I served it as hard as I could into the crowd,” she said.
Ben Roach, a star keeper for Santa Barbara High’s 2017 CIF soccer champions, played every minute of the season in goal for the Gauchos, recording 12 shutouts. He made four saves against Wake Forest, a couple of them high in degree of difficulty. His mother admitted it was tough to adjust from the high-scoring action of volleyball to the excruciating drama of soccer. In both sports, UCSB had great moments this fall.
LAST TEAM STANDING: No sooner had the Gaucho soccer team walked off the pitch in Winston-Salem, N.C., than Westmont College’s women’s volleyball team took the court in Sioux City, Iowa, to play for the NAIA national championship.
Rookie head coach Ruth McGolpin, a 1987 graduate of Dos Pueblos High, took the Warrior women as far as any college volleyball team from Santa Barbara has ever gone. “They can be the first to win a national championship,” said Ken Preston during the soccer game watch at Dargan’s.
UCSB reached the NCAA men’s volleyball finals five times and came up short each time. Preston coached one of those teams in 1988, when USC took down the Gauchos in five sets.
Westmont went into the 2019 NAIA women’s tournament with modest expectations. The Warriors went 2-1 in pool play, then caught fire in the knockout rounds. They beat Eastern Oregon in four sets and upset defending champion Park (Missouri) in five. They swept Viterbo (Wisconsin) in the semifinals early Saturday and faced Marian (Indiana) for the title that evening.
But it was not a weekend for Santa Barbara storybook endings. “We ran into an unstoppable girl,” McGolpin said. Skyler Van Note’s 20 kills powered Marian to the title by scores of 25-20, 25-20 and 25-21.
Westmont (31-8) put two players on the all-tournament team: senior Cassidy Rea from Ventura and freshman Lexi Malone. With most of her team returning next year, McGolpin says the Warriors can feed off this year’s experience. “I sent a text to our 2020 commits [newly recruited players],” she said: “‘You better be ready.’”