The UC Riverside women’s soccer team (6-9-2, 3-2-0) were handed their first conference loss of the season on Thursday, Oct. 12, losing 1-0 to visiting Cal State Northridge (6-4-5, 2-1-1).
Even with this loss, the Highlanders have already won more conference games than last year’s team did all season. The team was expected to have a down year this season due to graduating seniors, but has been able to prove otherwise after a rough non-conference start.
“We’re more organized. Our defensive line is much better, we’re not letting in the silly goals anymore,” said Coach Nat Gonzalez over the phone on Thursday. Up until Thursday’s matchup against CSUN, the Highlanders didn’t allow any goals during the line of play for five consecutive games — only giving up goals during set pieces and free kicks. CSUN’s Bret Guarino scored the only goal of the game in the 83rd minute off a scramble in the box from 10 yards out. UCR attempted 6 shots, but had no shots on goal. This starkly contrasts CSUN, who attempted 13 shots, with 5 on goal.
As for the offense, Gonzalez described the new system as “simpler,” allowing for the upperclassmen to be more confident and really thrive, a slight adjustment from when they were underclassmen a year ago.
Gonzalez emphasized the magnitude of the team’s next five games; if they win at least three, they’d win the conference. This gives them a conference seed in this year’s tournament, as well as extra motivation to stay on top of conference heading into next season. Holding a seed this year may not make too much of a difference to Gonzalez, saying, “Because the standings are so tight this year, I don’t really know how much (holding a seed) really means.”
Regarding this year though, Gonzalez spoke very highly of the team’s variety in different goal scorers, as well as the improvement of senior Ashley Webb. “Last year was her first year with the team, coming in as a transfer. She really has come into her own this season as there was a bit of a learning curve last year.” After all, it was Webb who scored the game-winner versus Southern Utah in the season opener on August 18 that began her standout season. The team overall has improved as, prior to the CSUN game, they were riding a four-game win streak for the first time since 2006.
The Highlanders looked to close the gap between themselves and UC Irvine on Sunday, Oct. 14, but fell 2-0. UCR takes the field again on Sunday, Oct. 22 at Long Beach State.