DePuy, Vom Steeg, Acheampong take home Big West’s top awards

Junior forward Nick DePuy repeated as the Big West Offensive Player of the Year, head coach Tim Vom Steeg earned his record fifth conference Coach of the Year Award, freshman midfielder Geoffrey Acheampong became the fourth consecutive UC Santa Barbara first-year player to win Freshman of the Year honors, and six other Gauchos were named to the Big West Men’s Soccer All-Conference Team as announced by the league on Tuesday morning.

Geoffrey Acheampong - UCSB Men's Soccer

UCSB’s Geoffrey Acheampong is the Big West Conference Freshman of the Year. (John Dvorak/Presidio Sports Photos)

DePuy, UCSB’s sole repeat honoree from last season, was joined on the All-Big West First Team by midfielders Kevin Feucht and Josue España as well as defender Duncan Backus. Sophomore forward Ahinga Selemani earned Second Team status, while Acheampong and sophomore left back Randy Mendoza garnered honorable mentions. Finally, goalkeeper Justin Vom Steeg was named to the All-Freshman Team.

UCSB’s nine overall honorees were the most of any Big West program.

“We’re pleased as a program to have the league coaches select eight of our players for All-League recognition,” said UCSB head coach Tim Vom Steeg. “Additionally, to have four picked on the First Team and another two selected as Players of the Year speaks to the quality of the players in our program and the depth of our roster.”

DePuy was a shoe-in to become the first Gaucho to repeat as Big West Offensive Player of the Year since Rob Friend (2001 and 2002). The striker led the entire NCAA with 15 goals in the regular season, including eight game-winners, also first in the nation. He has been absolutely pivotal to UCSB’s success the past two seasons, as the Gauchos are 16-0-4 in that time frame when he finds the back of the net. Since converting to forward on Sept. 26, 2014, he has 24 goals in 33 appearances, more than any other player in Division I soccer. With him at the point of the attack, UCSB had the most No. 1 offense in the conference and No. 8 offense in the country with 38 goals in 19 games.

Even by his lofty standards, he was red-hot over a six-game stretch between Sept. 21 and Oct. 10, notching six goals – including four consecutive game-winning goals – and becoming the first player ever to win three consecutive Big West Offensive Player of the Week honors.

The Coach of the Year award for Vom Steeg was the cherry on top of a typically successful season at the helm of the program. He tied CSUN head coach Terry Davila for the most Big West coaching honors at five to go along with his two NSCAA National Coach of the Year awards (2004, 2006). This season, Vom Steeg extended his conference records by notching his 200th win as a Big West coach and his 100th victory in conference action. The Gauchos have now won at least 10 games in all but one of Vom Steeg’s 17 seasons on the bench.

Acheampong continued the tradition of impact seasons from UCSB freshmen, as a Gaucho first-year player has taken home the award now in four consecutive and six of the past seven seasons. In the wake of injuries to key players Drew Murphy and Ismaila Jome, Acheampong stepped in and proved to be a catalyst for UCSB’s offense, pacing the Big West and ranking fifth nationally with 10 assists. He is the first Gaucho to hit double digits in helpers since Luis Silva and Dom Sarle both accomplished the feat in 2012. Adding three goals, he finished the regular season fifth in the Big West in points with 16. The Ghana native and former Cate School star recorded a goal or assist in 10 of 14 games after becoming a fixture in the starting XI on Sept. 18 against College of Charleston.

Capping off a four-year career at UCSB, team captain Duncan Backus garnered his first All-Conference nomination after providing versatile, experienced play in the defensive third. Spending time at right back, center back, and holding midfielder, the Texas native was a lockdown defender wherever he played while being calm and composed when on the ball. Standing at 6-2, he was a threat on set pieces as well, accruing a pair of assists this season.

Feucht, a German national, was exactly what the Gauchos needed in the middle of the park, a steady and physical holding mid who won balls yet could jump into the attack when necessary. He filled that role to a tee, providing cover for the UCSB back four and putting in a number of man-of-the-match performances. The scorer of eight goals as a freshman at University of Charleston, he proved he still had a nose for goal as a Gaucho, knocking home five goals this season, all coming in his past six games.

A creative and agile attacking midfielder, España was a key link-up piece for the Gauchos offense, recording two goals and three assists on the season. Arguably his best performance of the season came on Sept. 21, when he set up DePuy for the game-winner before adding an insurance goal himself in UCSB’s first ever road win against preseason-No. 1 UCLA.

Despite a nagging injury, Selemani went on to net four times in his first year with the Gauchos. The speedster was a perfect forward complement to DePuy, creating space for his strike partner while showing a nice finishing touch of his own.

A transfer from Cal State LA, Mendoza was effective and aggressive as UCSB’s left back. The sophomore had no issues getting up and down the touch line either, chipping in one assist on the season and providing quality service all season.

Justin Vom Steeg, son of Tim, backed up all the hype surrounding him after coming to UCSB as the No. 2 goalkeeping prospect in the entire 2014 recruiting class. The freshman stopped 72% of the shots sent his way, earned a call up to U-20 US National Team, and was named to the Top Drawer Soccer Team of the Week after a four-save shutout against Stanford on Aug. 28.

Having won their third consecutive North Division title, the No. 23 Gauchos earned a bye for the first round of the Big West Tournament. They will play their first game of the postseason – against the winner of the UC Davis-Cal State Northridge quarterfinal on Saturday – next Wednesday, Nov. 11, at Harder Stadium