#BWCWarmUp Fall Preview - UC Santa Barbara
BigWest.org chatted with UC Santa Barbara head coaches Paul Stumpf (women's soccer), Tim Vom Steeg (men's soccer) and Nicole Lantagne Welch (women's volleyball) to preview the upcoming 2014 season.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN 2014
On The Attack: Head coach Paul Stumpf emphasized that the number one priority for the Gauchos in 2014 is improving their offensive attack. UC Santa Barbara focused on offense during the recruiting period and looks forward to bringing on players who will contribute offensively. UCSB finished last in the Big West last season with 10.2 shots fired per game. Look to see the Gauchos take more chances this fall, and for Stumpf to tailor an offensive system more suited to his roster’s talents.
To The Left To The Left: In addition to recruiting players with the makeup to score goals, UCSB also looked for players to strengthen the left side, and Stumpf also feels that UCSB will be stronger in the central midfield.
Ritter The Riddler: Junior goalkeeper Beth Ritter, who posted eight shutouts last season, helped the team to a .474 shutout percentage, the best in the Big West, which ranked 49th in the country at the end of 2013 (nine shutouts in 19 games). While just 5-foot-4, Stumpf emphasized that what Ritter lacks in size she makes up for in speed and in reading the field.
Dominating Defense: The Gauchos allowed just 17 goals to pace the league last season and recorded the second-best team goals against average at 0.87. Having allowed just 65 corner kicks, the Gauchos recorded the third-best mark in the category.
Role Play: Four returning field players expected to make great contributions are seniors Miranda Cornejo, Kelly McGrath and Indiana Mead along with sophomore Morgan Indso. Cornejo will anchor the middle back in a critical manner while McGrath is poised to hold her own after an injury in conference play prematurely ended her junior season. Indso and Mead will contribute to the offensive efforts.
QUOTABLES – PAUL STUMPF
(On Beth Ritter): “There’s a level of trust there that make the defenders feel a lot better.”
(On Morgan Idso): “Morgan is one, when she winds up we all get kind of excited because she can strike a ball very well.”
(On offensive system): “The great thing about our nonconference schedule is that we have a wide variety of different styles and systems that we’re going to see so we’re going to do some experimentation to see what works best for us.”
(On how team is shaping up for season opener): “In the nine or so practices that we’ve had, they’ve done a really good job of coming ready to train, ready to train hard with an open mind and an open heart. That’s all that we can hope for.”
(On 2014 team): “I think there’s a renewed kind of team feeling around here. We’ve got a good group. The quality of soccer is better than it’s been in awhile, so what we’ve got going for us is that we have a good group.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
.474 2013 shutout percentage which ranked 49th in the nation
7 Both Indiana Mead and Madison Beckley’s career goal total which ranks sixth-best among Big West active career leaders
10 True freshmen making up the 2014 signing class
17 Fewest number of goals allowed by any Big West team in 2013
6,100 Miles the team will travel this season
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN 2014
Options, Options, And More Options: UC Santa Barbara’s 2013 season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with just 15 players suiting up for that game against Penn State. Injuries have adversely affected head coach Tim Vom Steeg’s squad, in particular the last couple of seasons. But with four players making the Big West All-Freshman Team, combined with the nation’s No. 7-rated incoming recruiting class according to College Soccer News, and Vom Steeg feels that outstanding depth will help his program immensely both this year, and over the long haul.
Youth Movement: As many as nine freshmen and sophomores could be in UCSB’s starting XI on August 29 when the team commences the season at College of Charleston. But Vom Steeg has many interchangeable parts, and therefore don’t be surprised if he spreads the minutes around. The depth also gives the coaching staff strategic options with players such as sophomore Nick DePuy. At 6-foot-5, the Gauchos could use him as a goal scorer, as a primary ball-winner in the midfield, or as a shutdown defender.
Hermann Trophy Candidate: Ismaila Jome could be a player in the same mold as Luis Silva and Chris Pontius, two former Gauchos carving out solid careers in Major League Soccer. Jome, the 2013 Big West Freshman of the Year and a member of the 32-man Preseason MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List, had two goals and seven assists, and drew two or three players to him toward the end of last year. With more weapons around him, Jome might be even more effective in 2014.
Opportunity Knocks: The recent rash of injuries actually could be more of a blessing in disguise, with players stepping up into key defensive roles. Brandon Brockway played well as a freshman in 2012 in place of injured all-conference performer Peter Schmetz, but suffered a season-ending injury of his own last year. Vom Steeg said he could be an elite defender in the Big West. Kevin Garcia-Lopez emerged out of sheer necessity last year, and might be in for a big year on the back line as a fifth-year senior. And the Gauchos are excited about incoming freshman Jeffrey Quezada. Add to that goalkeeper Josh McNeely, who started 19 games as a freshman and set the program record for goals against average (0.83) by a freshman, and the Gauchos could excel on the defensive end in 2014.
Milestones On The Horizon: Vom Steeg has coached UCSB for 15 seasons, including 13 in the Big West, and he is the all-time leader in terms of both overall (187) and conference (91) victories. It would take a successful season, but the 200-victory threshold for overall wins and the 100-win conference plateau are milestones that are within reach.
QUOTABLES – TIM VOM STEEG
(On UCSB’s depth): “I would say it’s the first time in probably four or five years that our talent level is deep enough to where first team, second team, there’s 20-22 players out there that can play, and play well, and potentially can start for us.”
(On what depth does for the team): “I do think that I’ve taken away an advantage that I’ve felt teams had over us, because I think, by and large, most of college soccer in general, if you don’t feel like you go 11 or 12 deep, you’ll play your six best and then rotate everybody else. And that rotation can be very effective. I think that part of the game will go back to being an advantage for us.”
(On Ismaila Jome): “We’ve asked him to expand his game. To be able to go to his right, to be dangerous both ways, to connect his passes better, to give us more on defense, and he’s the kind of kid I think has embraced it. I think you’re going to see an even better player.”
(On the versatility of Nick DePuy): “Last year Nick ended up playing in all three spots – he played some on the right, as a back, in the midfield, so we used him everywhere. So one of our big questions is what do we do with him? Right now, we feel he can be a center back at the next level. It’s probably where we’ll start things. We just kind of hate to lose his attacking ability.”
(On the future of UCSB soccer): “We ended up starting five freshmen (last year) – all five did really well – and so with all that experience, and then you add the freshman class we brought in this year, I’m very optimistic not only about this season, but I think we’re going to have a great three or four-year run here.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
6 Number of Gauchos since 2005 on the initial watch list for the MAC Hermann Trophy
7 Consecutive years that UC Santa Barbara has led the nation in average home attendance
8 Team-leading assist total by Drew Murphy, most by a UCSB freshman since 1978
11 NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 12 years
91 Big West victories for head coach Tim Vom Steeg, most in conference history
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN 2014
First Time Is The Charm: In 2013, under the helm of first year head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch, UC Santa Barbara posted a 13-3 Big West Conference record to tie for first place with Hawai’i and CSUN, giving the Gauchos a share of their first Big West title since 2005. The Gauchos earned the conference’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament after winning a head-to-head tiebreaker, marking the first time the Gauchos advanced to the postseason since 2009. Returning a majority of their young, but talented roster, the Gauchos will be tough to beat as they attempt to defend their title.
Block Party: During their freshman season in 2013, Phoebe Grunt and Allie Sullberg paced UC Santa Barbara in blocks and finished in the conference’s top 10. Grunt, an All-Big West Honorable Mention Team member, registered a league-best 1.28 blocks per set average while Sullberg, All-Big West Freshman Team selection, placed fifth with a 1.14 mark. The duo combined for 252 total blocks last season.
Young Gun: UC Santa Barbara welcomes back to the lineup 2013 Big West Freshman of the Year Ali Spindt, who posted a 2.81 kills per set average while hitting .237. She also ranked second on the team with a 2.93 dig average and a 3.2 points per set average. The outside hitter from Menlo Park, Calif., was named Big West Player of the Week on Nov. 18 after leading the Gauchos to a 2-0 mark, which included a five-set victory over league-leading CSUN that placed the Gauchos in contention for the conference crown.
Determining The Defense: The Gauchos may be returning a majority of their lineup but one position that is in question for 2014 is libero. In the offseason UC Santa Barbara said good-bye to outside hitter turned libero Leah Sully, who concluded her career with a school record 1,742 digs. UC Santa Barbara has three freshmen liberos joining two returning players to set up a battle at the position. Time will tell to see who emerges in the preseason.
National Recognition: For the first time in four years UC Santa Barbara received votes in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll, collecting 26 votes, the second-most among Big West schools. Hawai’i picked up 481 points to earn a preseason ranking of 17th. The Gauchos, along with CSUN (19) and Long Beach State (11), are listed in the others receiving votes category. The Gauchos return five starters and 12 letterwinners from last year’s team that secured their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.
QUOTABLES – NICOLE LANTAGNE WELCH
(On coaching her first season in the Big West): “It was very enjoyable for me to be back on the west coast where I am originally from and obviously our team had an incredible first year in conference and just a lot of great memories associated with that.”
(On pressure of maintaining first-year success): “I have no problem with setting the bar high. Our expectations of where we want our program to be year in and year out are competing for Big West championships and nationally. That is part of success and I understand that and the team understands that as well. We have to work just as hard and it doesn’t change our daily focus but maybe this puts a little more of a target on your back.”
(On benefits of success with a young team): “In so many positions we are a lot more experienced going into this year. With so many freshmen and sophomores that played on the court last year, they now have another year under their belt and they are more comfortable. They are playing at a higher level and we are going to use that experience to our advantage but at the same time we have to have some people step up to fill the spaces where we did lose.”
(On the setter position): “We ran a 6-2 so Hanna Nielson was the setter for the first two rotations and Ali Santi was for the next three. We are anticipating a similar situation where they are both heavily involved with our offense. They both have another year under their belt and have a lot more experience, especially with the middles they are setting to because that connection took some time to develop last season and we will be a little further along with that timing and rhythm for this season.”
(On challenging start to season): “Out of conference matches are so important to not only increase your at-large chances into the NCAA Tournament but for building the Big West RPI. We start out with a great tournament against Colorado State, Marquette and VCU, three programs that have been NCAA Tournament teams and have had a lot of success. It is going to let us know where we are right from the start, and we are excited about that challenge, and are looking forward to that first match that is coming up quickly.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
5 Big West Conference titles won by UC Santa Barbara (2002-05, 2013)
11 Opponents swept by the Gauchos in 2013
28 Appearances in the NCAA Tournament – only seven programs have made as many appearances
492 Block assists recorded last season to lead the league
1,742 Career school record dig total for Leah Sully (2009-13), also sixth all-time in the Big West Conference