12th-Seeded Gauchos To Square Off With Ohio State In Columbus Sunday

Nov. 29, 2007

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The Schedule
Match No. 21
NCAA Tournament Third Round
Sunday, December 2, 2007
No. 7 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (13-3-4) at No. 13 Ohio State Buckeyes (14-3-5)
Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium
Kickoff 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m. PT)

How Sweet It Is
After an 11 day layoff, UC Santa Barbara opened the 2007 NCAA Tournament against the University of Washington Wednesday night and came away with a 1-0 victory in front of a racous crowd of 9,641 at Harder Stadium. Jon Curry scored the only goal of the match in the 10th minute and goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner recorded a career-best six saves to lead the defending national champions to their seventh consecutive victory in the tourney dating back to last season. Despite getting outshot by the Huskies 13-7, the Gauchos advance to their fourth Sweet 16 in the last five years and will take on 5th-seeded Ohio State in Columbus on Sunday. Santa Barbara enters its showdown with the Buckeyes riding an eight match unbeaten streak and has won seven of its last eight overall. The Gauchos' have not lost since dropping a 2-1 decision at Central Coast rival Cal Poly on Oct. 17 and bring an overall record of 13-3-4 into the third round match this weekend.

Gauchos on the Air and Web
For fans that aren't making the trek to Columbus this weekend, there is no need to panic. Your friends and mine and KCSB have you covered. UCSB's Sweet 16 match at Ohio State will be aired live on KCSB 91.9 in Santa Barbara and Gaucho soccer enthusiasts can also listen to the game online by logging on to www.kcsb.org. After following UCSB during its national title run in 2006, two of KCSB's finest in Chris Hoffman and Alex Pavlovic are at it again this season. The dynamic duo will have the call live from Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium as the Gauchos look to keep rolling in their quest for another NCAA National Championship.

So, What's Next?
The winner of this weekend's Ohio State-UC Santa Barbara tilt will advance to the quarterfinals and host either No. 13 seed Maryland or unseeded Bradley -- who just knocked off No. 4 seed Indiana in a penalty kick shootout on Wednesday -- Dec. 7, 8 or 9.

Five Out of Seven Aint Bad
UCSB has been the team to beat in the Big West the last several years and the Gauchos continued their recent domination with another conference championship in 2007. With a 3-2 win at Cal State Northridge on Nov. 13, Santa Barbara won its second consecutive league title and fifth since the conference reinstated men's soccer in 2001. The defending national champions lost just once in conference play this season and clinched a share of the league crown with a thrilling 2-1 comeback victory at Cal State Fullerton Nov. 10. UCSB then needed just one win or tie in its final two matches to claim the title outright and, after falling behind 2-0 against the Matadors, came roaring back to score the final three goals and sew up a fifth championship in a seven year span with a record 9-1-2 in conference play. Since 2001, Santa Barbara is a combined 54-12-6 against Big West foes (.792).

The Seeds of Success
After finishing the regular season with an overall record of 12-3-4 and an RPI of seven, UCSB was awarded a No. 12 seed when the 2007 NCAA Tournament field was unveiled Nov. 9. This marks just the second time in program history that the Gauchos will enter the postseason as a seeded team, with the first coming in 2004 when Santa Barbara was given the No. 9 seed after finishing with an overall record of 17-2-1 and spending seven weeks as the nation's top-ranked program. That group advanced to the College Cup for the first time in school history and lost a heartbreaker to Indiana in a penalty kick shoot-out in the title match. UCSB returned to the championship stage last season and became the first unseeded team to be crowned champion since Connecticut in 2001 with a 2-1 win over UCLA.

Trio of Gauchos Take Home Big West Individual Honors
The Big West Conference champions were handsomely rewarded when the annual all-conference teams and awards were released on Nov. 20. Andy Iro became the first player in league history to to win a major award three-times after he was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the third consecutive season, while Chris Pontius was named the Offensive Player of the Year and Ciaran O'Brien took home the award for Midfielder of the Year. In all, UCSB had a total of eight players named all-conference and set a school-record with seven players earning All-Big West First Team distinction. Eric Avila, Tino Nuñez, Alfonso Motagalvan, and Brennan Tennelle joined Iro, Pontius, and O'Brien on the first team, while Jon Curry was named to the honorable mention team. The Gauchos took home seven of the 13 first team spots, the most among the conference's seven teams.

2007 In Review
UCSB began the year with the program's first-ever No. 1 preseason ranking, but the defending national champions struggled in the season's first week, allowing two late goals in a 2-2 tie at Stanford before getting upset 1-0 by Gonzaga at home two days later. The Gauchos bounced back with a 2-0 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in week two and an impressive 2-1 overtime victory over then-ranked No. 3 SMU in week three, but lost to 28th-ranked New Mexico in the Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invitational title game two days later to fall to 2-2-1. In its next game, Santa Barbara erupted for a season-high five goals in a 5-1 thrashing of Columbia and then battled No. 6 Harvard to a 1-1 draw to wrap up its non-conference slate. Things really begin to click in Big West play as the Gauchos became the first team since the conference reinstated men's soccer to shutout its first three league opponents of the season, defeating UC Davis 4-0 on the road, routing UC Irvine by the same count in the Fox Soccer Channel's Game of the Week, and recording a 1-0 win over Cal State Fullerton. After tying the Aggies 2-2- in the second meeting and losing for the first time in BWC play at Cal Poly, UCSB went on to win six straight, including a 3-1 come-from-behind win over the Mustangs in front of a record crowd of 8,102 at Harder Stadium in the rematch between the conference's top two teams. UCSB won at Cal State Northridge for the first time since 2001 to clinch the 2007 Big West Championship on Nov. 13. The Gauchos won nine of their 12 league games this season and enter Sunday's contest winners of 10 of their 13 overall.

Scouting the Buckeyes
• After eliminating Washington in the second round, the Gauchos will travel to face No. 13 Ohio State (14-3-5) in the Sweet 16 Sunday afternoon in the first-ever meeting between UCSB and OSU. The Buckeyes also posted a 1-0 home win in the second round on Wednesday, defeating Louisville 1-0 on forward Andrew Magill's third goal of the season in the 53rd minute. OSU outshot the Cardinals 19-15 in the match to improve to 6-1-1 at Jessie Owens Memorial Stadium.

• Ohio State was awarded a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the regular season with an overall record of 13-3-5. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten Championship with a record of 4-1-1 and enter Sunday's match riding an impressive streak of their own, going unbeaten in the last 12. OSU has not lost since falling 1-0 at Green Bay Sept. 29.

• Senior forward Xavier Balc leads the Buckeye offense with a team-high six goals and 12 assists for 24 points. Junior defender Tim Gable has also been impressive, tallying three goals and five assists in 2007, while Magill is also a player to watch with three helpers in addition to his three goals. Senior keeper Casey Latchem has started 22 games between the posts and owns a very impressive 0.66 goals against average with 78 saves and 13 shutouts.

Seven and Counting...
With Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Washington Wednesday, the Gauchos have now won seven consecutive matches in the NCAA Tournament dating back to last season's incredible postseason run. UCSB was a flawless 6-0 in the tournament in 2006, defeating San Diego State, SMU, Old Dominion, Northwestern, Wake Forest, and UCLA to bring home the program's first national championship. Santa Barbara also won its sixth straight tournament opener Wednesday night to improve to 6-0-0 all-time in opening games of the postseason. 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 in 2004. UCSB has since kncked off San Diego State twice to open tourney competition, defeating the Aztecs 2-0 in 2005 and then erasing a 1-0 second half deficit to defeat SDSU 2-1 last season. Making a sixth consecutive NCAA appearance, UCSB is now 14-4-0 all-time in tournament play dating back to 2002, the first season it qualified for the Big Dance.

Poll Position
After going unbeaten in its last seven regular season matches, UCSB entered postseason play with a national ranking of No. 13 in the final NSCAA/adidas coaches' poll of the regular season. The Gauchos also hold the No. 11 spot in the last SoccerTimes coaches' poll before the NCAA Tournament got underway. In the media polls, Santa Barbara is ranked No. 7 in the current Soccer America Top 25 and received a No. 11 nod in the latest College Soccer News Top 30. The Gauchos began the 2007 campaign as the nation's top-ranked team and have remained ranked among the Top-25 all season long.

Road Warriors
The Gauchos are very comfortable playing on the road and have proven it time and time again. In 2006, UCSB stuggled away from home in the early part of the season, losing five of its first seven contests outside of Santa Barbara, but then put it together down the stretch. UCSB posted true road victories over No. 1 SMU and Old Dominion in the NCAA Tournament, before defeating No. 2 Wake Forest and UCLA in neutral site contests at the College Cup in Saint Louis. Santa Barbara finished with a record of 6-5-1 on the road during their national championship lseason a year ago. This season the Gauchos have been excellent away from home all year, winning true road matches at UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, and Cal State Northridge and defeating then-ranked No. 3 SMU at the Nike/Crescent Financial Solutions Invitational in New Mexico Sept. 14. UCSB enters Sunday's road match at Ohio State with a record of 5-2-1 on the road this season.

Win the Close Ones
To be successful in the NCAA Tournament, a team has to be able to win close games. After Wednesday night's 1-0 victory over the University of Washington, nine of UCSB's 20 games this season have been decided by a single goal. The Gauchos own a 6-3 mark in those matches and each of the team's last three wins have come by the narrowest of margins. Santa Barbara came-from-behind to defeat Cal State Fullerton 2-1 Nov. 10 and Cal State Northridge 3-2 three days later to clinch the Big West Conference championship before outlasting the Huskies the other night. UCSB also posted one-goal wins over No. 3 SMU, Fullerton in the first match-up of the year, and UC Riverside. Conversely, each of Santa Barbara's three losses in 2007 have also been decided by one goal, with UCSB dropping a 1-0 decision to Gonzaga Sept. 2, falling to No. 28 New Mexico 2-1 in overtime Sept. 16, and losing at Cal Poly 2-1 Oct. 17.

Iro Named A Hermann Trophy Semifinalist
Senior defender Andy Iro was named a semifinalist for the 2007 M.A.C. Hermann Trophy when the list was narrowed down to 15 players on Monday. Both Iro and junior midfielder Eric Avila were named to the watch list before the start of the season, marking the first time in program history that two Gauchos were selected for the prestigious list that will eventually determine the NCAA Division I Player of the Year. The defending national champions were one of only two schools to have multiple players named to the watch list, joining senior goalkeeper Matt Allen and junior forward Byron Dacy of Creighton. UCSB has had a total of four players named to the list after Iro received the honor in 2006 and Tyler Rosenlund was selected in 2005. The winner of the M.A.C.'s Hermann Trophy will be determined by a panel of NSCAA Division I member coaches. Three finalists will be named in early December in conjunction with the NCAA Division I College Cup and they will be invited to the Missouri Athletic Club on Friday, January 11. The winner will be announced during a nationally-televised news conference that evening.

Curry Comes Up Big
Jon Curry's second goal of the season was a big one. The sophomore midfielder netted the only goal of the match in the 10th minute Wednesday night to deliver the Gauchos a 1-0 win over Washington in the NCAA Tournament Second Round. After a Ciaran O'Brien corner kick from the left side was cleared out, the ball came out to Curry and he sent a curling shot up over Huskie goalkeeper Stephen Fung's head and into the top right corner for what proved to be the game-winner with over 80 minutes still to play. Like several of his teammates, Curry has had a breakout season in 2007, setting new career marks with two goals and five assists for nine points. The Sacramento, Calif. native's first goal of the season came when he punched home the Gauchos' third score in a 4-0 rout at UC Davis Sept. 29. He also recorded an assist on Nick Perera's goal in the 30th minute in UCSB's 1-1 in the regular season finale Nov. 17. Curry entered the season with just one goal and one assist in 21 matches during his first year in the blue and gold.

Rising to the Occasion
Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Bryant Rueckner turned in an outstanding performance in his first-career postseason match Wednesday night. The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. native made four saves on the way to his sixth shutout of the season, leading the Gauchos to the 1-0 win over Washington. Rueckner has been very effective in his first season as UCSB's starting keeper, starting all 20 matches and playing every one of a possible 1887 minutes. He owns an impressive 0.91 goals against average and has made a total of 54 saves in 2007. Rueckner has only had to make more than three stops on six occasions this season and tallied a career-high six saves in his first-career start at Stanford in the season-opener and then again in the Gauchos' 2-1 comeback victory at Cal State Fullerton Nov. 10.

Call to Duty
Chris Pontius had always been one of the most versatile players on the Gauchos' roster, but few people knew just how talented he was offensively before the 2007 season. Playing primarily in the midfield and filling in on the backline from time to time in his first two years at UCSB, head coach Tim Vom Steeg moved Pontius up front early in the season and the Yorba Linda, Calif. native immediately responded. Entering the year with a total of four goals in 43 career matches, Pontius scored the game-winner in Santa Barbara's first victory of the season went on to lead the Big West with 11 goals and 24 points this season. He put the nation on notice after scoring three times to lead the Gauchos to a 4-0 rout over UC Irvine in a nationally televised match Oct. 3 and earned National Team of the Week honors from both Soccer America and College Soccer News for his performance. Pontius also found the net twice in Santa Barbara's 3-2 comeback victory at Cal State Northridge Nov. 13 to propel UCSB to its fifth conference title in the last seven years. He was named the 2007 Big West Offensive Player of the Year following his breakout season.