Aug. 28, 2001
Santa Barbara, Calif. -
Although the 2001 UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team returns several key players from its 2000 version, newcomers may hold the key to success.
"The program is in a transition phase," began third-year head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "We still have some of the players who have been here for a few years and we have two full recruiting classes. The last two years, we've brought in a different type of player and it has created a good situation. Our challenge will be to put the old and the new together."
Graduation left a couple of big holes in the defensive backfield, but Vom Steeg went a long way towards filling them in the off-season. Literally.
Freshmen Neil Jones and Tony Lochhead will be given ample opportunity to start at two of the defender slots. Jones and Lochhead come to UCSB from New Zealand, where they were members of the Junior National Team.
"Lochhead and Jones are freshmen who can come in and control the back," Vom Steeg said. "Those are two critical positions that we have taken care of for a few years."
Senior Reuben Bates started all 19 games last season and he should join the freshmen tandem on the backline this year.
"Reuben started every game last year and did not get beat," Vom Steeg assessed. "As a veteran back there, he is a very key player."
Other candidates to fill defender positions include senior Galen Donaldson and sophomore Kevin Maffris. Donaldson played in 15 games last season, starting eight and in his three seasons, he has started a total of 33. Maffris played in eight contests last season, starting seven, before injuring his knee and missing the remainder of the year. Vom Steeg expects him to make a complete recovery this season, and that should be major plus for the Gauchos.
The Gaucho midfield will also depend on a mix of young and old in 2001.
Senior Steven Sosa returns after an up-and-down junior campaign and Vom Steeg sees him as one of the team's pivotal players this year.
"Steven and Jaime (Ambriz) are two of the main guys who we need to have big years," he said. "Sosa is going to be on the field a lot and he will have great opportunity to be successful."
Sosa played in 12 matches last season, starting eight. He was among the team leaders with three assists. Two years ago, he played in 19 matches and paced the team with five assists.
Joining Sosa on the midfield will be a surprise duo from last year, sophomores Darren Doi and Matt Kubota. About a third of the way into last season, Doi and Kubota were forced into the lineup because of a variety of injuries to other Gauchos and they responded. Doi played 12 matches, starting 11, and led the team with four assists. Kubota played in 13, starting 11, and contributed a goal and an assist.
"We had some young players who had big years last year and Doi and Kubota were two of those players," Vom Steeg recalled. "They really stepped up when we had some injuries and that experience should help them this year."
Aaron McAthy, who played in 18 matches and started ten as a sophomore, also returns. He will be one of two McAthys battling for playing time on the midfield this season. Freshman Drew McAthy, Aaron's brother, joins the Gauchos after a tremendous prep career at Huntington Beach High School. He is one of the top high school recruits in recent UCSB history. Another top returnee will be Sean Edwards, a junior who tallied three goals and three assists last season.
Overall, Vom Steeg thinks that the UCSB midfield will be one of the team's strongpoints in 2001.
"We are finally in a position, skillwise, to play a possession game," he said. "We now have great young players who will help us dominate the midfield, not just by being physical, but by holding onto balls."
With a little help from their Friend, the Gaucho forward line should improve in 2001.
While UCSB returns senior Jaime Ambriz, its top goal scorer from each of the last two seasons with eight and six respectively, he will have a new teammate and Friend to help share the burden.
Rob Friend, a junior transfer from Western Michigan, is expected to make an immediate impact. Last year he was named All-Mid American Conference after scoring six goals and four assists. He was a two-year starter for the Broncos, and just as impressively, the native of Kelowna, British Columbia, is a member of Canada's National Team.
"Rob Friend is a true headline player for us," Vom Steeg began. "He has had great Division I and international experience and he takes pressure off of guys like Jaime (Ambriz), Gene (Deering) and Joe (Hubay-Dies)."
Deering, a sophomore, played in 17 matches as a freshman, starting six. Hubay-Dies, a senior, played in 19 matches and started 13. He was tied for third on the team with three goals. Another newcomer, freshman Matt Bly, will battle for playing time.
Sophomore Erik Stolhandske had a solid freshman season. He started 14 matches, finishing with a goals against average of 1.08 and 59 saves. Stolhandske is big and strong and will once again be in the goalkeeping mix.
In addition to Stolhandske, there will be two other sophomores and a freshman competing for playing time between the posts. Sophomore Jeremy Pruzin was Stolhandske's backup a year ago and he will probably be in a similar role this year. Either of two newcomers could emerge as well. Freshman Dan Kennedy out of El Dorado High School in Orange County is an outstanding talent who could see immediate action, and Brad Duttera, a sophomore, has college experience, playing at the University of San Diego as a freshman.
The Final Word
UCSB's talent level is definitely improved and they will need every bit of it with the schedule that Vom Steeg has lined up. While they have 12 home games, there are no cupcakes. Included in the schedule are consecutive home games against top-ranked San Jose State, and traditional powers UCLA and Fresno State. In addition, the Big West Conference will sponsor men's soccer for the first time in several years. The Gauchos will play home-and-home with league opponents Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Cal Poly, Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside.