November 9, 2006

No. 17 UCSB Hosts No. 30 San Diego State In NCAA Tournament First Round Match-Up

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Nov. 9, 2006

The Schedule

NCAA Tournament First Round
Saturday, November 11, 2006
No. 17 UC Santa Barbara (12-7-0) vs. No. 30 San Diego State (9-5-4)
UCSB's Harder Stadium • Kickoff 1:00 p.m.

Mission Accomplished...For Now
One of head coach Tim Vom Steeg's goals at the start of the 2006 season was to recapture the Big West Conference title, something UC Santa Barbara lost a year ago. The Gauchos finished the regular season strong, winning five of their final six matches and did so in convincing fashion, out-scoring their opponents 9-2 over that span. UCSB entered the final week of the regular season in first place in the conference standings and had the opportunity to close out the Big West title last Wednesday at No. 18 UC Irvine. The Anteaters had different plans however, and limited the Gauchos to a season-low five shots in a 2-0 win to retake the BWC's top spot. The conference crown came down to the final day of league play once again and, after Irvine's 1-0 loss at Cal State Northridge Saturday afternoon, Santa Barbara entered its contest with UC Riverside needing a win or tie to hoist the Big West trophy. The Gauchos left no doubt, dismantling the Highlanders 4-0 at Harder Stadium to claim their fourth Big West Conference championship in the last six years at 7-3-0. UCSB enters postseason play with a 12-7-0 overall record.

UCSB Collects Nine Conference Awards
When the annual all-conference teams and awards were announced Tuesday, the Gauchos were once again one of the Big West's most decorated squads. Highlighted by junior Andy Iro's second consecutive Defender of the Year award and senior Kyle Reynish's Co-Goalkeeper of the Year honors, a total of seven players were named to all-conference squads. In addition to Iro and Reynish, midfielders Bryan Byrne and Eric Avila were named to the first team, while midfielder Eric Frimpong, defender Jeff Murphy, and forward Bongomin Otii garnered second team accolades.

Scouting the Aztecs
• For the second consecutive year UCSB and San Diego State will battle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Harder Stadium. Saturday's contest will mark the 32nd meeting between the two programs, with the Aztecs holding a 17-11-3 advantage in the all-time series. The Gauchos have won the five previous meetings however, including last season's tournament match. UCSB limited the Aztecs to just five shots and Ivan Becerra and Jonathan Davis found the net, lifting the Gauchos to a 2-0 win in front of over 3,500 strong. Santa Barbara also won the September 2 match-up earlier this season, again shutting out the visitors in a 1-0 decision. Freshman forward Bongomin Otii scored the game-winner in the 56th minute in the Gauchos' home opener.

• SDSU enters Saturday's match-up after finishing the regular season 9-5-4 overall and second in the Pac-10 Conference at 5-2-3. Currently ranked No. 30 in this week's College Soccer News poll, the Aztecs went unbeaten in their last five and have not lost since they fell 2-1 at UC Irvine October 14. Junior midfielder Kraig Chiles headlines the San Diego State offense, leading the team with six goals and four assists for 16 points in 2006. Senior forward Andrew DiCicco is not far behind with five goals and four assists to go with a team-high .571 shot on goal percentage. Senior Tally Hall has started all but one of the Aztec's 18 matches between the pipes and owns a 0.99 goals against average with 71 saves and six shutouts.

2006 In Review
After losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, the Gauchos were not a exactly a favorite to return to the College Cup in 2006. Starting the season with a No. 23 NSCAA preseason ranking, UCSB opened with a bang embarrassing then-ranked No. 7 Akron 5-0, only to fall to No. 3 Virginia 1-0 two days later in the UVa Soccer Classic title game. From there Santa Barbara won four of its next five, with the only defeat coming to No. 18 Illinois at Chicago on a fluke goal with overtime just 31 seconds away. The Gauchos opened Big West Conference play with a 2-1 double overtime victory over Cal State Fullerton September 21, but then hit a rough stretch in which they dropped three of four, including a 5-0 blunder at BWC rival Cal State Northridge and a 3-1 defeat to then No. 7 UCLA in front of a record crowd of 5,475 at Harder Stadium in the Fox Soccer Channel's Match of the Week. UCSB bounced back with an impressive 2-0 win over No. 15 UC Irvine to move into first place in the league standings, but lost to UC Riverside for the first time in 32 years October 11. That loss would prove to be the Gauchos' wake up call, as they won five of their final six--including their first victory over the Matadors since November of 2004--to claim the Big West Conference title. Four of Santa Barbara's seven losses came to squads that were ranked in the NSCAA Top 25 at the time, with five of them coming to teams in the extremely strong Far West Region.

The Rankings Game
After winning the Big West crown last Saturday, UCSB enters postseason play with national ranking of No. 17 in the current Soccer America poll, returning to the Top 25 following a month-long absence. The Gauchos appeared in the College Soccer News Top 30 last week after winning five of six and are currently ranked No. 27 in this week's media poll. Santa Barbara has been ranked as high as No. 7 in 2006 but dropped out of all three Top 25 polls following the brutal 5-0 loss to Cal State Northridge September 27. UCSB then slipped out of the polls all together for the first time in over three years the following week after falling 3-1 at the hands of then-ranked No. 7 UCLA. Santa Barbara is not currently ranked in the NSCAA/adidas or Soccer Times coaches polls.

Sweet November
The Gauchos will be making their fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance this weekend when they square off with San Diego State Saturday. UCSB is a combined 7-4-0 in NCAA Tournament play dating back to 2002, the first season it qualified for the Big Dance, and has been very impressive in tournament openers. In fact, Santa Barbara has been perfect, posting a 4-0-0 mark in opening (first or second) rounds of the tourney. The Gauchos topped San Diego 2-0 in the first round in 2002, downed Cal 2-0 in the second round of 2003 and beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee 2-1 in the second round two years ago. 2004 was definitely a year to remember, as the Gauchos were awarded the No. 9 seed and advanced to the National Championship match where they tied Indiana 1-1 after two overtime periods, before falling 3-2 in penalty kicks to end the season as the National Runners-Up. Last season UCSB defeated SDSU 2-0 at Harder Stadium in the first round before falling 3-2 at Big West rival Cal State Northridge 3-2 in round two.

Another Helping of Home Cooking
While 2006 marks UCSB's fifth-straight appearance in the Big Dance, this is also the fifth year in a row that it will play a tournament game within the friendly confines of Harder Stadium. Not only have the Gauchos been perfect in NCAA Tournament openers the previous four seasons, but they have also been flawless at home in tournament play. Hosting a game each year that they have qualified for the postseason, the Gauchos hold a 4-0-0 record and look to continue the streak this weekend when the Aztecs come to town. In its first-ever tournament game, Santa Barbara defeated San Diego 2-0 in front of over 4000 strong in 2002. In 2003, the Gauchos blanked Cal 2-0 in front of a Harder Stadium crowd of around 1500. In the magical run in 2004, a school-record 11,215 fans watched UCSB crush Virginia Commonwealth 4-1 after a 2-1 double overtime win over UWM in the second round. Finally, Santa Barbara shutout San Diego State 2-0 last season with over 3,500 fans in the stands. Harder Stadium has not been an easy place for opponents to play and if the last four years are any indication, the Gauchos have to like their chances going into Saturday's match.

If You Don't Score, We Win
One of the most common themes this season has been the fact that when the Gauchos win, it is usually by a shutout. Entering competition last week, UCSB was playing near perfect defense and had recorded four-straight shutouts--all of which were victories. Although they allowed two goals in last Wednesday's loss at 18th-ranked UC Irvine, the Gauchos bounced back and shut down UC Riverside in a 4-0 romp in last Saturday's regular season finale. UCSB finished the season strong, shutting out its opponents in six of their final eight matches and it is no coincidence that the Gauchos posted a 6-2 record over that span. For the season, 11 of UCSB's 12 victories have been shutouts, with only Cal State Fullerton finding the net in a Gaucho win. With 11 no-nos in 19 contests in 2006, Santa Barbara leads the Big West Conference and ranks 8th nationally with a 0.58 shutout percentage.

A Season of Close Ones
If you are going to be successful and advance deep into the NCAA Tournament, it is important to be able to win close games. UCSB has played a total of 19 games this season and 11 of those have been decided by a single goal. The Gauchos own a 7-4 mark in those matches, with three of the four losses coming on the road. Santa Barbara has dropped 1-0 decisions at then-ranked No. 3 Virginia August 27, at UC Davis September 23 and at UC Riverside October 11 and lost 2-1 to No. 18 UIC at Harder Stadium September 8. On the flip side, seven of UCSB's 12 victories have come by a one goal margin--five of them by a 1-0 count--so this year's team definitely has experience playing in close games.

Avila on the Ball
Sophomore midfielder Eric Avila has been on a tear as of late and has scored his three goals in the last six games. After he scored twice in the Gauchos' season-opener against Akron, all signs pointed to the 2005 Big West Freshman of the Year having an amazing follow-up campaign as a sophomore. Like most of the squad in 2006, the San Diego native struggled to find the net for much of the season, but finally broke through with the game-winner against Cal Poly October 14 before scoring the game's only goal in a 1-0 win over Cal State Northridge 11 days later. In the second half of last Saturday's game with the Highlanders, Avila collected a pass from Brennan Tennelle and fired from 15 yards out to give Santa Barbara a 3-0 lead. Avila leads the Gauchos and ranks fourth in the Big West with 46 shots and is second on the squad with five goals and a total of 13 points this season. One of only three players to start every game in 2006, UCSB is 4-0 when Avila shows up in the scoring column.

He's A Keeper!
Senior goalkeeper Kyle Reynish has been the man all season between the posts and has been absolutely brilliant, playing every one of a possible 1738 plus minutes. After shutting out UC Riverside last week, the Valencia, Calif. native has now held UCSB's opponents scoreless six times in the last eight games and has recorded a total of 11 shutouts this season. One week removed from earning a spot on the College Soccer News National Team of the Week and also garnering Big West Player of the Week honors, Reynish made three saves against the Highlanders, the first of which stopped what looked like a sure goal for UCR and preserved the shutout. Reynish's 11 shutouts in 19 games is a new career-high and led the Big West. In addition, he ranked among the conference's top-two keeper's in virtually every statistical category, including goals against average (0.83), saves (74), and save percentage (.822). The 2006 BWC Co-Goalkeeper of the Year is also one of the biggest reasons why Santa Barbara had the conference's top ranked defense, allowing 16 goals in 19 games for a 0.84 goals against average.

Byrne, Baby Byrne
All four of the seniors on the Gauchos' roster have led by example in 2006 and co-captain Bryan Byrne has been no exception. The Castledermot, Ireland native is third on the team in overall scoring with 11 points after assisting on the Gauchos' game winner against CSUN October 25. An All-Big West First Team selection this season, Byrne has scored two goals, the first coming at Cal State Fullerton September 21 and the second came when he netted the game-winner against UC Davis October 18. More importantly, Byrne has been setting the table for his teammates all season and led the Big West with seven assists.

Forward Thinking
With two of UCSB's top four goal scorers this season being either a freshman or sophomore, Coach Vom Steeg can rest easy knowing the Gauchos will be very solid up front the next few years. Freshman Bongomin Otii leads the team and ranks fifth in the Big West Conference with six goals this season after becoming the first player in program history to score five goals in his first five games wearing the Gaucho blue and gold. Sophomore Nick Perera has also had a breakout season, finding the net four times in 2006. Along with Avila, the forward leads the squad with two game-winning goals, the most recent coming when he tallied a pair in UCSB's 2-0 victory over then-ranked No. 15 UC Irvine to move into first place in the conference standings October 7. Perera scored one of the Gauchos' four goals in last weekend's win over UC Riverside, collecting a cross from Chris Pontius and netting an arcing shot in the 38th minute. Otii, a native of Denver, Colo. has not scored since October 14 at Cal Poly.