The men’s soccer team made strides after coming off a rough two-win season last year. Already 7-4-1, the Slugs are equipped with 21 upperclassmen on the squad and their experience is resulting in wins.
“More or less the heart and soul of the team is the same this year as last year,” senior Daniel Tirosh said. “We have mature upperclassmen who are really helping us.”
In early September the team was on a four-game winning streak with victories over Cal Lutheran, Pacific Lutheran, Puget Sound and Willamette. Tirosh said the Slugs are still hunting for an NCAA tournament spot, but this season has kept them in the race.
“We haven’t really won anything yet,” Tirosh said. “We haven’t earned anything yet either, except to still be in the race. Realistically we should be Division II. Since there are no teams in the area to play us and we don’t have a conference, we are an independent team and it’s much harder for us to get in the tournament. We are still in the hunt, but by no means in the clear.”
UCSC hits the road this weekend for a game against Claremont McKenna on Saturday and will return home Sunday for a match against Illinois Tech. With five more Division III games on their schedule, Tirosh said the Slugs have to win-out for a chance at a tournament spot.
Senior forwards Zack Hummel and Neal Hetzel are the top scorers for UCSC with four and three goals this season respectively. The leading scorer out of the NCAA Division III Independents is just two goals ahead of Hummel. Senior goalie David Vivian leads the Independents with 1.05 average goals against per game and is in second place with 13 goals scored on him.
Coming off a 1-0 loss against CSU San Marcos, the Slugs are in third place out of the NCAA Division III Independents with a 5-6-1 record. Senior captain Liz Kaufamn said their three upcoming games against Pomona, Cal Lutheran and University of Redlands will determine their chance of qualifying for NCAA. The Slugs will hit the road for their next match against Pomona (7-2-1) on Oct. 10.
“We’re having a good season. Even though we lost some tough games, we are playing well,” Kaufamn said. “We only have one coach this year. Usually we have an assistant, so it’s a lot for one person to manage 28 girls.”
Senior forward Sarah Sadler leads the Slugs offensively with nine goals this year, while junior Gabby Trujillo has been the glue for the Slugs at the goal posts.
“We’ve been moving the ball better this year and we have really good team chemistry,” Kaufman said. “Everyone works really hard and pushes each other. We play because we love the game and we don’t get much support from the administration. We have to support each other.”
The Slugs were on an eight-game winning streak going into their biggest tournament of the year, the Pikes Peak Challenge in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Their first game of the tournament was a tough match against Nebraska Wesleyan University, who led the Division III Independents with a 11-3 record going into the tournament. UC Santa Cruz suffered a close 3-2 loss after winning the first two sets and dropping the last three. The same day, the Slugs fell to Christopher Newport University 3-0.
“We learned a lot from going to Colorado,” said head coach Dwight Combs. “We had some difficulties dealing with altitude and had starters stay behind for various reasons, so we ran a lineup in that tournament we’ve never ran before.”
The next day of the tournament UCSC beat University of Wisconsin-Superior and lost to Colorado College to finish the tournament 1-3. Their overall record dropped to 11-5 and they are now in fourth place out of the Independents. A highlight from the weekend was junior middle Kellie Graves named to the All-Tournament Team with 37 kills and nine blocking assists.
Although the Slugs had their first NCAA appearance in program history last year, Combs said the second year is always the toughest. To qualify this year the team will have to win-out for a chance at a spot.
“The disappointing thing is we had the opportunity to control our own destiny and now that’s not in our hands anymore,” Combs said. “Last year was kind of a magic ride and we had no expectations. This year learning to deal with expectations is always a challenge.”
UCSC’s next five games are on the road, with matches against Redlands, Chapman and UC Merced next week. Combs said their record over the weekend wasn’t reflective of the outcome he hoped for, but it was a “positive experience” competing against high caliber teams the Slugs normally don’t get to play.
“It helped us understand the level we need to be at and realize we have the potential to compete at that level,” Combs said.