UCSB touted itself as Soccer Heaven when it hosted the NCAA Men’s College Cup earlier this month.
But there was a heavenly experience for the sport here months earlier. On March 5, the communities of Santa Barbara and Goleta came together at UCSB’s Harder Stadium to be part one of the biggest local sports spectacles this area has ever seen.
A crowd estimated at 8,000 poured into the stadium to watch Santa Barbara High and Dos Pueblos battle it out for the CIF Division 2 boys soccer championship. The Dons, executing their possession game to near perfection on the big field, won 3-0 for their sixth championship in program history.
The night was a milestone for local soccer and local sports.
The impact this game had on the community made it a clear-cut choice by the staff at Presidiosports.com to select it as the Story of the Year.
The fact two local teams from the same league reached the CIF final is amazing in itself. (DP was in the playoffs for the first time five years.) And to draw that many people to see it, is truly incredible. A regular-season game between the crosstown rivals usually draws between 200-300 people.
“The night would have been plenty special if we had simply played in front of 100 fans,” DP coach Tovi Eliasen said. “Nobody expected the turnout we got, and I think the volume of people is what made the game one that nobody will ever forget.”
Santa Barbara coach Todd Heil anticipated a good turnout for the all-local final.
“The expectation that night was for a crowd of anywhere between 3,000-4,000,” Heil said. “But as we were warming up and the people kept coming in, I had a feeling we might get a little more than the 4,000 estimate, but 8,000…?”
The fans were still coming in at halftime.
Heil was blown away when his team came out of the locker room before the start of the game.
“As we exited the tunnel to enter the field for introductions and the National Anthem, we were hit with a sea of fans on the opposite side,” he said. “I instantly got the chills, realizing all of these people were there in support of all the players that night.
“I still get the chills thinking about it.”
When he thinks back to that night, Eliasen wonders if it wasn’t all a dream.
“Looking back at that night, it’s hard to believe it really happened,” he said. “Eight thousand people came out to see a high school game? Were they charged admission?
“Even the fact a CIF final game featured two teams only 10 miles apart, is hard to believe.”
Said Heil, “The turnout from the Santa Barbara community speaks volumes about how much they not only support soccer, but how much they support high school athletics in general.
“To put it in perspective, the College Cup final was advertised and marketed for months and had an attendance just over 9,500, which included fans from Akron and Louisville. The CIF final game at Harder Stadium was advertised for three days and still managed to pique the interest of 8,000 people.
“I’d say that’s tremendous support by the Santa Barbara community for the boys that played that night.”
Eliasen called the night “a victory for the beautiful game.
“I’m so happy to have been a part of it, and so happy to share that moment with my players, with Santa Barbara High, and with friends and family who came to the game,” he said. “I’ve been asked about it countless times and I always describe it as the biggest sporting moment of my life as a player or coach.”
To read the championship game report from that special night, click here.
There were plenty of special moments achieved by local teams and athletes in 2010. Here is a list of other stories we considered for Story of the Year.
— The seniors ruled for the Santa Barbara High boys golf team. Led by Shane Lebow, Jack Perry, Ray Gerow and Jack Baur, the Dons shot a course-record 2-under par 358 to win the CIF State Championship at Santa Maria Country Club. It was the school’s first state title in history. Lebow and Perry each shot 4-under 68, Gerow fired a 72, Baur a 73 and underclassmen Sean Searls a 77, including a huge 80-foot pitch on No. 11.
“This is just a special group of golfers,” coach James Bedard said. “We had seven guys this year who performed on this team. They made each other better and they made each other work on their game.”
— The Dos Pueblos girls water polo team achieved perfection, going 31-0 and winning a third straight CIF championship. The Chargers, behind the clutch scoring of Jamie Neushul, rallied from a 7-2 deficit and beat Newport Harbor 8-7.
“It was kind of a mind-trip. We just had to get our minds back into the game and focus,” said Chargers senior goal keeper Sami Hill, who is now playing at UCLA.
—UCSB made college soccer history when a record 15,896 fans filled Harder Stadium to see the Gauchos beat UCLA 2-0. It was the largest on-campus stadium attendance in NCAA history and the second-largest crowd ever for a regular-season match.
–Behind Big West Player of the Year, Orlando Johnson, the UCSB men’s basketball team won the Big West Tournament championship and earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002. The Gauchos lost to Ohio State in the first round.
—UCSB’s ninth straight NCAA Tournament appearance in men’s soccer ended badly as the Gauchos lost 2-1 in overtime at Cal in a controversially officiated second-round match. The head official ejected Gaucho Luis Silva in the 26th minute after a 50-50 challenge and allowed a Cal player to remain in the game after he shoved Silva in the face. In his postgame press conference, Gaucho Coach Tim Vom Steeg blasted the officials and the NCAA for its process of assigning officials for NCAA Tournament matches.
—The year was touched by sadness with the sudden passing of longtime high school basketball coach and athletic director John Ward. Ward died from colon cancer in late September. More than 1,000 people attended his memorial service at Carpinteria High’s Memorial Stadium. His son, Johnny, has taken over as the boys basketball coach at Carpinteria.
—The domestic AVP pro beach volleyball tour went out of business, so local stars Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser went overseas and dominated the World Tour. The pair won a record nine international tournament titles.
—Westmont College opened a new, beautiful soccer and track facility and turned Russ Carr Field into a cozy baseball-only ballpark.
—Santa Barbara and San Marcos resurrected their alumni football game as way to raise money for the schools’ football programs. The teams battled to a 10-10 tie before a full house at Peabody Stadium. SBHS grad and former NFL star quarterback Randall Cunningham suited up for the Dons but didn’t play in the game.