With their Big West conference season nearly at an end, UCSB is already thinking ahead to a run in the NCAA Tournament and putting themselves in a position to secure their second ever national title and first since 2006.
The Gauchos currently have an 11-4-2 record (6-0-2 Big West), and sit atop their conference with just two regular season games left against Sacramento State on November 6 and Cal Poly on November 9.
The team’s Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg is already looking ahead to postseason play for his side, especially now that they have secured the regular season Big West championship and a bye to the semifinals of the Big West tournament.
Vom Steeg stated, “I get much more excited about the NCAA tournament. Our focus was to win this regular season championship and get ourselves a bye, which we’ve done. So now we’re playing on November 15 and hope to play after that. Again, I’m not trying to downplay winning those but certainly the prize for all teams is the NCAA Tournament.”
“The way I see the conference tournament is we hope that it gives us a chance to play UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge, then just by playing those games we know not only will we make the NCAA Tournament but we’ll have a good chance to get a seed. You go a long way if you can get yourself not having to play on that first week and then get a home game. That obviously goes a long way towards giving yourself a chance to get to the Final Four.”
Before that, however, the Gauchos face a tough away trip to Sacramento State, a team that holds a 1-7 record in the Big West but are not being underestimated by Vom Steeg or his players.
“They [Sacramento State] were either tied or ahead with 15 minutes left to go in literally almost every single game I saw,” Vom Steeg said. “We’re expecting a team that can hurt you, and if you don’t take your chances next thing you know you can walk away with a tie or a loss.
“I always get more nervous about games like that than I do about playing Cal Poly at home or away under the lights with lots of people. Those games, you know what you’re going to get. To me, this is the one game that our players have to treat the game accordingly and respond. We use the word ‘professional’ in terms of how we approach the game.”
Vom Steeg’s men had to overcome early disappointments this season, losing two consecutive games on two occasions, and he believes that it is those disappointments that have driven the Gauchos through an intense stretch of games, seven of which have gone into overtime.
“It’s a remarkable stretch that we’ve been on so it’s kind of funny, as we’re actually kind of used to being in overtime,” he said. “I feel like we’re comfortable in overtime. We’ve had a good approach."
“Earlier in the year we lost a game with 12 seconds left against New Mexico and then lost to Stanford in overtime. I think those early disappointments; we’ve learned from that and built on that. Our five freshmen starters have had to grow up fast."
“If I point to a success we’ve had recently I think it goes back to the disappointments that we had earlier in the year. It’s tough to lose a game with 12 second left, so those have been building-blocks for us.”
Chris Teale is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@chris_teals