This is the first of a three-part, week-long series previewing the upcoming 2016 UCSB men's soccer season ahead of Saturday's campaign-opening exhibition against Westmont. Today's preview will break down UCSB's forwards.
DePuy – UCSB's All-American target man who led the NCAA with 15 regular season goals last year – and Selemani – A Michigan transfer who was named Second Team All-Big West after potting five goals and 12 points – formed a lethal strike tandem in 2015, helping the Gauchos to the Big West's best offense at 1.83 goals per game.
In today's college soccer landscape, it is extremely rare to return two All-Conference talents at the forward position. Thus, Vom Steeg will be looking to his seasoned forwards for big production this year.
"This team has the talent to score 50 goals this season if both Nick and Ahinga are healthy and playing up to their capabilities," said Vom Steeg. "The challenge is going to be working around the fact that we know Nick will have two center backs on him every game and Ahinga will be brought up in every game plan. We think both have the talent to overcome that adversity."
Facing double-teams and physical defenders should be nothing new to DePuy, who has established himself as one of the premier scoring threats in college soccer. Since being convered to forward midway through the 2014 season, no player in the NCAA has more goals than his 24.
Despite being targeted by opposing defenses, he grinded out 15 goals a year ago en route to his second straight Big West Offensive Player of the Year award. He's also a Preseason All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List member to start this year. In other words, the secret is out.
"The thing to remember about Nick is he's only played two dozen games as a forward, so he has room to grow," said Vom Steeg. "He's added muscle to get him through the season, he's added a summer's worth of experience, and he's looked good in training. We expect nothing but big things out of him."
As pleased as the Gauchos are with DePuy returning for his senior season, they are just as excited to see what Selemani, one of the top recruits in his high school class, can do with a full year of Big West soccer under his belt.
"Our goal this year is to give Nick a running mate so teams can't key in on one player or the other," said Vom Steeg. "We think Ahinga is the No. 1 candidate for that role – he's at his best when lined up next to Nick and we think he has another gear in him that can get him to the 10-goal mark."
A 5-9, 175-pound speedster, Selemani likes to run at defender's shoulders which plays well in a tandem with DePuy, who is more of an aerial threat.
Preferring to play a two-forward system and knowing that his top two strikers cannot make lung-busting runs every game all season, Vom Steeg feels good about his options off the bench.
A pair of returners in Cody Gibson and Jonah Adomakoh both will have chances to shine as true sophomores, while newcomers Derek Kryzda and Noah Billingsley also sport the credentials to excel at the collegiate level.
Gibson, a Bellevue, Wash. native who stands 5-8, played a fair amount as a freshman in 2015, entering 17 contests and exhibiting a top-notch work rate. While he didn't find the back of the net, he set up goals in big games against Blue-Green rival Cal Poly and Sweet Sixteen foe Clemson.
"Cody has done well in his time here," said Vom Stege. "He was one of our best players on our international trip to England, and he's done great in camp."
Adomakoh played sparingly last season, but flashed glimpses of his potential, including in a 4-0 win over San Diego on Sept. 27 in which he scored just three minutes into his NCAA debut. Fully healthy heading into the new campaign, he should receive much more playing time.
"Jonah has the size and strength to compete in the Big West," said Vom Steeg. "We feel he is a real quality striker."
Both newcomers arrive on campus highly touted after putting together impressive prep careers abroad.
Billingsley, who hails from Wellington, New Zealand, is regarded as one of the top young strikers from his country, where he has earned six international caps. He even recorded the first U-20 World Cup goal in New Zealand's history.
Kryzda, a Mexico City native, totaled 71 goals and 30 assists in his four years of high school ball at The American School Foundation of Mexico City, culminating in a 45-goal senior campaign.
UCSB's annual scrimmage against Westmont this Saturday will kick off an 11-game home schedule featuring some of the biggest names in west coast soccer like UCLA, Cal, UC Irvine, Cal Poly, and LMU.
To reserve your season tickets today, click here or call the UCSB Athletics Ticket Office at 805-893-UCSB (8272).