MSoc: DePuy, Garcia-Lopez earn top Big West awards

Kevin Garcia-Lopez  -  UCSB Soccer

Kevin Garcia-Lopez

Nick DePuy

Nick DePuy

Eight members of the North Division champion UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer team were named to the 2014 All-Big West Conference Team, the league announced on Friday morning.

In addition, UCSB received three player awards, as sophomore forward Nick DePuy was named Offensive Player of the Year, senior right back/midfielder Kevin Garcia-Lopez was named Defensive Player of the Year, and attacking midfielder Axel Mendez was named Freshman of the Year.

DePuy and Garcia-Lopez were both named to the All-Big West First Team as well, joining teammate Ismaila Jome, who received his second career All-Conference nod. Sophomore midfielder Drew Murphy was the team’s sole Second Team representative, while Mendez, freshman forward Ludwig Ahl, and junior center back Duncan Backus earned honorable mentions.

Ahl, Mendez, center back Jeff Quezada and midfielder Ryo Fujii were each named to the All-Freshman Team.

The Big West regular season champs, UCSB’s three First Team selections were tied with Cal Poly for the most of any school.

“Nick may have scored a majority of our goals in conference play,” said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg, “but we got contributions up and down that lineup, which is the reason we were ultimately able to be successful. We dealt with a number of injuries down the stretch, had guys playing out of position, and were still able to get results. It ended up being a true team effort.”

The Gauchos’ seventh Offensive Player of the Year since 2001 and first since Sam Garza in 2010, DePuy electrified the conference after moving to forward from the midfield just before the start of Big West play. Vom Steeg’s gambit paid dividends and then some, as DePuy led all Big West players with eight goals from conference play, including five game-winners, also a Big West best. He was twice named a National Player of the Week this season and was also a repeat recipient of conference Offensive Player of the Week and national Team of the Week honors. Nick’s offense hit new heights in the second half of conference play, as he has scored the team’s last six goals, recording four game-winners and one game-tying goal to lead the Gauchos to a five game unbeaten stretch as they enter the postseason. In Big West play, the Irvine, Calif. native also led all players in shots (42) and points (17).

Providing key experience and leadership on a relatively young back line, Garcia-Lopez anchored a Gauchos defense that produced the second-lowest goals-against-average in the conference by allowing just nine goals in 10 contests. He becomes the fourth Gaucho in the last six years and ninth all-time to take home Defensive Player of the Year honors. A two-way threat down the right flank early in 2014, Garcia-Lopez transitioned to a holding midfield role later in the year, contributing to key shutouts of UC Davis and Cal Poly that helped UCSB clinch the division crown. For the year, the Torrance, Calif. native recorded one goal and one assist.

After nailing down a starting role, the playmaking Mendez was a consistent thorn in the side of the opposition. He continues a long line of UCSB Freshman of the Year recipients. It is the third straight year that a Gaucho has been named the Freshman of the Year, while five of the last six winners have been UCSB players as well. Mendez recorded three goals and three assists on the year, including a brace against Sacramento State on Oct. 22. Never afraid to have a go at goal, the LA Galaxy Academy product ranked second on the team and ninth in the conference with 44 shots.

Playing in a variety of positions throughout the year, Jome had another superlative year for UCSB, leading to a second career Big West First Team selection. An effective attacking mid throughout the early part of the season, Jome went on to record five assists for the year, tied for tops among all conference players. After a swath of injuries, Jome moved to left back and provided the Gauchos with quality minutes and helped stabilize the back four.

Similar to Jome, Murphy moved between midfield and defense throughout the year. However, he provided offense no matter where he was on the pitch, tying his teammate for the conference lead in assists with five. It was the second career conference honor for Murphy, as he was named to the All-Freshman Team in 2013. He was named the Big West Player of the week on two consecutive Mondays (Sept. 30 and Oct. 6), recording one goal and four assists over a four-game stretch.

Arriving in America just days before the start of the season, Ahl wasted no time in gelling with his teammates. The fleet-flooted Swede recorded four goals and four assists on the year. His most important goal sparked a comeback against Cal Poly on Oct. 25 in front of an NCAA season-high 14,345 fans at Harder Stadium. The efficient Ahl put exactly 50% of his conference shots on frame, the highest rate among qualified Gauchos.

Backus and Quezada emerged late in the season to form a center back pairing that – despite a relative lack of experience playing with each other – held the opposition to five goals in six games after its formation. As a team, UCSB went on to allow the fewest shots on goal against of any team in the conference, including a Backus-Quezada-led effort against UC Davis on Oct. 29 that saw the Aggies record not a single shot on frame.

Fujii was one of the few players on the team to maintain his position throughout the season, providing quality defense and distribution as a holding mid. The Torrance, Calif. native has begun to find his offensive groove as well, recording assists in two of the past three games for his first points of the year.

The Gauchos return to action next Wednesday when they host the semifinal match of the Big West Tournament at 7:00 p.m. Having earned a bye for the quarterfinal round as the Big West North Division champions, UCSB will play the winner of tomorrow’s showdown between UC Irvine (South No. 2 seed) and Sacramento State (North No. 3 seed.