SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara – the defending Big West Tournament champion – has been favored to capture the 2011 regular season conference crown in a poll of the Big West men's soccer coaches.
The Gauchos nabbed six of the seven first-place votes while Cal Poly received the remaining first-place nod. UCSB, which has claimed three of the last five Big West regular season championships, collected 48 points overall. The Mustangs were picked to finish second with 40 points while Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine received 32 and 30 points, respectively. Cal State Northridge (20 points), UC Davis (14) and UC Riverside (12) rounded out the poll.
UCSB returns six starters and 14 total letterwinners from its 2010 campaign, which saw the Gauchos finish 14-5-3 overall. Last year's team won the Big West Tournament and made the program's ninth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Gauchos return their top three goal scorers in Sam Garza (9 goal, 6 assists), sophomore David Opoku (6 goals, 5 assists) and senior Luis Silva (6 goals, 4 assists). The trio combined for 21 of the team's 40 goals last season and each received All-Big West accolades.
The Big West Conference is not alone in its high expectations for the Gauchos this season. UCSB has also been highly touted nationally and most recently was ranked No. 8 in Top Drawer Soccer's Preseason Tournament 48 rankings. The rankings are the website's running attempt to project the NCAA Tournament qualifiers, including every automatic conference berth.
The top-20 ranking is the Gauchos' third during the preseason, following a No. 9 placement by College Soccer News and No. 14 rank by the NSCAA.
2011 Big West Men's Soccer Preseason Coaches Poll
No. School Pts.
1. UC Santa Barbara (6) 48
2. Cal Poly (1) 40
3. Cal State Fullerton 32
4. UC Irvine 30
5. Cal State Northridge 20
6. UC Davis 14
7. UC Riverside 12
( ) First-place votes