April 2, 2008

Showdown With Defending National Champion Wake Forest Highlights UCSB's 2008 Schedule

April 2, 2008

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Seeking a seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and a return to the College Cup, the UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team released its schedule for the 2008 season Wednesday. The Gauchos' non-conference slate features a match-up with the defending national champs as well as two other teams have won the title in the past six years.

"With the games we have in non-conference play, as well as the strength of the Big West overall, we feel that we have put together one of the top-10 schedules in the country," head coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "Our goal is always to play a schedule that not only prepares us for conference play, but gives us the strength of schedule needed to host a game in the NCAA Tournament and we have definitely accomplished that."

UCSB will once again open the season with a preseason scrimmage against cross-town rival Westmont, looking to capture an eighth straight Bryant & Sons Cup Saturday, August 23. The Gauchos will battle the Warriors for the 46th time in their only exhibition tune-up before the start of the regular season.

For the first time since the 2005 campaign, Santa Barbara will open the season at home when Air Force visits Harder Stadium Friday, August 29. UCSB will then host the University of Kentucky the following Friday as part of the Loyola Marymount Invitational, before hitting the road for the first time in 2008 to take on LMU in Los Angeles Sunday, September 7.

In week three the Gauchos will head to the East Coast to face Rutgers on Friday, September 12, before a match-up with former assistant coach Leo Chappel and Columbia two days later.

Santa Barbara will then return home to host Evansville on Thursday, September 18, before welcoming defending NCAA Champion Wake Forest to Harder Stadium the following Sunday in a battle between the last two programs to bring home the title. In the only previous meeting between the two schools, the Gauchos outlasted the Demon Deacons 4-3 in a penalty kick shoot-out to advance the championship match in 2006. Wake Forest returned to the final game last season and came from behind to defeat Ohio State 2-1 to claim the program's first national championship.

The rematch is sure to be one of the premiere match-ups in all of college soccer in 2008.

After its bout with Wake Forest, UCSB will travel to Bloomington on Saturday, September 27 to square off with the University of Indiana for the first time since losing to the Hoosiers in the College Cup Final in 2004. Indiana was awarded a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the 2007 regular season with an overall record of 13-4-4, only to be upset by Bradley in the second round.

Santa Barbara will then wrap up its non-conference schedule with a showdown in Westwood Wednesday, October 1, in the first meeting with UCLA since the championship match in Saint Louis two years ago. The Gauchos defeated the Bruins 2-1 to claim the program's first national title and denied UCLA its 100th championship as an institution in the process. The Bruins finished last season with a mark of 9-9-4 and lost to No. 7 seed Santa Clara 3-1 in the NCAA Tournament Third Round.

UCLA defeated Stanford 1-0 to win the national championship in 2002.

Santa Barbara will begin defense of its fifth Big West Championship in the last seven years at UC Irvine Saturday, October 4. The Gauchos will then come home for three straight, hosting Cal State Northridge, UC Davis, and UC Riverside, before traveling to Central Coast rival Cal Poly Saturday, October 18 - the site of UCSB's only loss in conference play last season.

Welcoming back 13 letterwinners from last year's squad, including Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Year Chris Pontius, Santa Barbara finishes the regular season with five league matches, closing the schedule at UC Davis Saturday, November 8.

At the conclusion of the regular season the Big West will feature a conference tournament for the first time in 2008, with the top four teams advancing to a semifinal match on Wednesday, November 12. The teams will be seeded according to the standings and the top two seeds will serve as the host sites. The highest remaining seed will then host the Big West Championship match on Saturday, November 15, with the winner receiving the conference's automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.

With the advent of a conference tournament, members of the Big West will play 10 league games instead of 12, allowing programs to schedule two additional non-conference games (the Gauchos will face Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside just once this season). The conference coaches voted in favor of the tournament in hopes of improving the overall RPI of the league and earning multiple berths in the NCAA Tournament field. Other than UCSB, UC Davis was the only other Big West team to reach the tourney in 2007.

In all, Santa Barbara's schedule features five games against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. UCSB is also in discussions to have two of its games during the 2008 season televised nationally.