Season Preview: UCSB Kicks Off the 2006 Campaign with Exhibition vs. Westmont
Aug. 17, 2006
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -
This Week's Sechedule
Preseason Exhibition Match
44th Annual Bryant & Sons Cup
Saturday, August 19, 2006
No. 21 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos vs. Westmont Warriors
Kickoff 7:00 p.m.
After a 39-year Santa Barbara tradition of UCSB and Westmont College squaring off in the regular season, the two teams will meet in an exhibition match for the second year in a row. The Gauchos defeated the Warriors 4-3 last season in front of over 1,400 fans.
Westmont leads the overall series 23-16-4, but UCSB has been dominant lately, winning the last five contests by a combined score of 14-5, with a pair of shutouts.
The Bryant & Sons Cup match will once again be a solid tune-up for the Gauchos who begin their regular season August 25-27 in Charlottesville, Virginia. UCSB will face Akron and the host Cavaliers in the University of Virginia Soccer Classic.
For the first time this year, Gaucho fans will have a chance to get their first glimpse of both the men's and women's soccer teams on the same night. Prior to the men's match up with Westmont, the women will take on Cal State Dominguez Hills in an exhibition beginning at 5:30 p.m.
2006 Season Preview
One of the most difficult things in sports in not necessarily getting to the top, but staying there. After the 2004 squad spent most of the season with a No. 1 national ranking and advanced all the way to the national championship match, the Gauchos had realistic expectations entering last season, knowing that it would be extremely tough to get back to that level.
The Gauchos went on to finish the year ranked 23rd at 13-5-3 overall, take second place in the Big West Conference at 7-1-2, and advanced to a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, losing in the second round to BWC rival Cal State Northridge 3-2. While some might think the Gauchos had a letdown in 2005, their accomplishments were quite impressive considering they lost seven starters that had combined to play over 90 games from the year before.
So now that UCSB is two years removed from the most successful season in program history, Gaucho fans have to be wondering what they can look forward to in 2006. At the outset of the upcoming season, this is clear: Santa Barbara will be very talented and very deep.
UCSB, which enters the 2006 season with a No. 21 preseason ranking in College Soccer News' national poll, returns 15 letterwinners and seven starters from last year's squad that ranked 20th in the nation in scoring at 2.05 goals per game. Among the returnees are two-time All-American and reigning Big West Defensive Player of the Year Andy Iro, Freshman All-American and 2005 Big West Freshman of the Year Eric Avila, and All-Big West performers Bryan Byrne, Kyle Reynish and Tyler Rosenlund. In addition, the Gauchos have locked down one of the most talented crop of young players the program has ever seen. The 12 new faces comprise a recruiting class that was ranked 22nd by College Soccer News.
Head coach Tim Vom Steeg, who is entering his eighth year at the helm of the UC Santa Barbara soccer program is less concerned with where his team is going to sit in the national polls than he is hungry to reclaim what the Gauchos lost last year, the Big West title. "Going into this year our big goal is to get back and win the Big West Conference Championship. We want to be playing our best soccer when league starts and put together a great conference season. Doing that will put us in the playoffs and then we'll see where we're at from there."
Considered one of the best in college soccer, UCSB's midfield will be very strong once again in 2006 with a combination of guys that play with a lot of flare and some great possession players. Headlining the Gauchos' deepest position will be Avila, a prototypical attacking midfielder that started every game as a freshman in 2005. Junior First Team All-Big West selection Rosenlund, who missed time last year due to injury, is healthy and as good as they come around the 18-yard box. Senior Eric Frimpong and junior Brennan Tennelle, who combined for three goals and four assists last year, are both very good at going forward. Two newcomers will also see some time in the midfield. Junior transfer Evan Patterson recorded three goals and three assists last year at Santa Barbara City College, while David Walker was the 2005 Century League MVP at Villa Park High School.
With the departure of two of the Gauchos' top three goal scorers last season in First Team All-Big West honoree Ivan Becerra and Jonathan Davis, UCSB will rely on some new talent up front in 2006. With one of the deepest frontlines in recent memory, a total of seven forwards on the roster will compete for time and give Santa Barbara the ability to constantly run on their opponents. Junior Andrew Proctor returns after finishing the season very strong a year ago, recording assists in both of the Gauchos' playoff games. Returning to the lineup after redshirting to rehabilitate injuries in 2005 are junior Tino Nuñez and freshman Paul Kierstead. Nuñez is a great ball handler while Kierstead is tremendous with his back to the goal. Sophomore Nick Perera, who made eight appearances in his first year with the Gauchos, is also back. Tony Chinakwe, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, along with freshmen Bongomin Otii and Guillermo Jalomo, will also have the opportunity to step in a make an immediate impact. With each player offering something a little different, Vom Steeg will have the luxury of going with various looks up front depending on what the opposition is fielding.
As always the case with a Vom Steeg squad, the 2006 Gauchos will look to beat their opponents out wide in addition to possessing the ball in the middle. Third Team All-Far West honoree and team co-captain Byrne is back for a fifth year of eligibility and will be running the right side for the fourth consecutive season. Byrne finished second on the team with six goals and six assists in 2005. Sophomore Chris Pontius who was impressive last year appearing in 20 of the Gauchos 21 matches, is the early favorite to start at the left flank. Other than those two returning players, UCSB has three recruits coming in that are very capable of playing out wide. Jordan Kaplan will be a reliable reserve on the right side, while Drew Gleason will see some minutes on the left. Redshirt freshman Jon Curry will also be involved on the left side of the midfield.
The one spot on the field with the least question marks to start the season is UCSB's defense. Although the Gauchos did lose two premiere defenders in Pat Scott (First Team All-Big West) and Chris Hughes (Second Team All-Big West) to graduation, the defense is in very good hands. Third Team NSCAA All-American Iro will be back anchoring the backline in the middle. The junior co-captain headlined a defense that allowed a conference low 16 goals and limited the opposition to two shots on goal or less in eight matches last season. Lining up with Iro on the left flank with be senior Jeff Murphy, who started a career-high 16 contests in 2005, and junior Greg Curry, who returns from the 2004 national finalist squad, will be on the right. Fielding those three players, the Gauchos' defense will be very experienced going into 2006. Sophomore Kyle Kaveny looked good all spring and will also be part of the story in the back. Fellow second year player Alfonso Motagalvan will likely move from the D-mid position he usually plays and give some minutes as a defender.
While filling the void left by First Team All-Big West selection and two-time team captain Nate Boyden will not be easy, the Gauchos are not without options at the defensive midfield position. Motagalvan, who was impressive as a freshman appearing in 19 games, will see time at the defensive midfield spot when he is not playing on the back line. Freshman C.J. Cintas, an All-State and All-BIIF performer at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy, also plays the defensive midfield position very well. With the players UCSB has at the defender and D-mid spots, the Gauchos have the option to go with a four-back set or a sweeper and two marking back formation if a game calls for it.
The last line of defense will be another strong point for UCSB this season with Second Team-All Big West keeper Kyle Reynish returning between the pipes. In his first year as a full-time starter, Reynish played every minute in goal for the Gauchos in 2005, posting a league best nine complete game shutouts and a 0.87 goals against average. With a full season under his belt, Reynish has quickly developed into one of the top goalkeepers in the nation. Secondly, Santa Barbara will be very deep at the goalkeeping position in 2006, a luxury Vom Steeg did not have a year ago. In addition to Reynish, freshmen Bryant Rueckner, the U.S. Under-17 National Team's first choice keeper, and Jason Badger, the highest rated goalie at last year's Region IV ODP camp will be joining the Gauchos this fall. Both are extremely reliable and can step in a relieve Reynish when needed.
The Coaching Staff
Finally, the Gauchos will have a fresh look in 2006 that extends beyond the players on the field. Joining Vom Steeg on the sidelines will be new assistant coaches in Greg Wilson and Neil Jones. Wilson replaces Leo Chappel, who took the headcoaching job at Columbia University after five very successful seasons at UCSB. The head coach at Division I Philadelphia University the last three years, Wilson led the Rams to the program's first post-season appearance since 1989 in 2005. Gaucho fans will be excited to see Jones back at Harder Stadium albeit in a much different capacity. A four-year starter at UCSB from 2001-2004, Jones amassed 28 goals and 16 assists during his career and has also spent time competing at the national level as a member of New Zealand's National Team.
With the season quickly approaching, it appears that everything is in order for Vom Steeg and the Gauchos. The favorite to win the Big West once again, UCSB is primed to win its fourth crown in the past six years and advance to a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament. Only time will tell just how good this team will be, but with the Gauchos' combination of talent, depth and a roster of guys that are capable of playing UCSB's style of soccer, they will definitely make some noise in 2006.