SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After a pair of impressive wins in its first two home games last week, Sacramento State (3-3-0) faces two more stiff tests at home this week, hosting No. 15 Utah Valley (6-1-0) at 4 p.m. Thursday and Saint Mary's (2-4-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Hornet Field.
The games will be part of the semi-annual Copa de Causeway, a four team, two-site weekend tournament hosted by Sacramento State and UC Davis. The Aggies will host Saint Mary's at 4 p.m. Thursday and Utah Valley at 3 p.m. Saturday in Davis.
Teams will receive three points for a win and one point for a tie to determine a champion while an all-Tournament team will also be announced following Saturday's games. UC Davis is 3-2-2 on the year and will face Sacramento State twice later this season in Big West conference play.
Scouting #15 Utah Valley (6-1-0)
Utah Valley enters the week ranked No. 15 in the Top Drawer Soccer poll and is 18th in the NSCAA poll. The Wolverines have wins over two ranked teams this season, beating Washington and Gonzaga, and their only loss came against No. 11 Loyola Chicago. Utah Valley has allowed just five goals in seven games this year and only two goals in its last five matches while recording four total shutouts. UVU has shutout wins in each of its last three contests, including a 1-0 victory over fellow Big West member CSUN last Saturday. UVU is led offensively by senior Skyler Milne (4 goals, 3 assists) and junior Paul Hoffmeister (4 goals) who rank first and second, respectively, in the WAC in points per game. The game will be the first ever meeting between Sacramento State and Utah Valley and will be the first Hornet game against at team from Utah since facing BYU in 1991.
Scouting Saint Mary's (2-4-2)
Saint Mary's is just 2-4-2 but has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, as its opposition has combined for a 28-18-2 record this year. The Gaels played then-No. 1 Stanford to a 2-2 draw in Palo Alto and lost by just a 1-0 score against then-No. 10 UC Santa Barbara. Saint Mary's has won two of its last three games, including a 2-0 home win over fellow Big West member Cal State Fullerton on Sunday. The Gaels have scored and allowed the same number of goals (13) this year but have permitted multiple goals in five of their eight games with a 0-1-2 record on the road. Stephen Dougherty leads the team with two goals and three assists on the year. Sacramento State is undefeated in its last seven games against Saint Mary's (2-0-5) and has not lost to the Gaels since 2007.
The Hornets opened their 2016 home schedule last week in a big way with wins over Portland, a team receiving votes in the NSCAA Top-25 poll, and San José State. Sacramento State is now 6-2-1 on Hornet Field over its last nine matches after going 4-2-1 at home last year. The squad has two more home games this week and five Big West contests in the friendly confines to come this season.
On the Offensive
Sacramento State tallied five goals in its two wins last week. The squad had scored just two goals during its season-opening four game road trip but the offense came alive on Hornet Field. Seniors Alex Bettencourt and Nate Nugen both had two goals and an assist over the two wins while the Hornets had a 37-19 overall shot advantage and were 14-9 in shots on goal.
Senior forward Alex Bettencourt leads the Big West and is tied for third in NCAA Div. I with three game-winning goals. He scored the game winner in each of the three Hornet wins this year, including a winner in the 90th minute last week against Portland. For his efforts last week, which included an assist to go with his two winning goals, Bettencourt was selected as the Big West Offensive Player of the Week.
Two Will Do
The Hornets are undefeated this year and 10-2-1 since 2014 when scoring two or more goals. The team has been able to win when scoring just one goal as well, as it did in the victory at Loyola Marymount and in four 1-0 victories over the last two seasons.
Sacramento State's senior class, which totals 10 players, has tallied six of the team's seven goals this year and five of its 10 assists. Seniors Alex Bettencourt, Nate Nugen, and Ivan Ramirez have combined for 17 points while the rest of the team has seven points this year.
Senior midfielder Ivan Ramirez is tied for the Big West lead and 37th nationally with three assists. Last year he tied for the fifth most assists in a season in program history with six helpers. The six assists were the most that any Hornet had since the 2010 season and he ranked second in the Big West in assists per game.
Living Out West
Sacramento State's eight non-conference games are against teams from just two "west" conferences, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and the West Coast Conference (WCC). Following the season opener at WAC school CSU Bakersfield the Hornets played four straight games against schools from the West Coast Conference. The team then plays two more WAC opponents and wraps up with WCC member Saint Mary's. The Hornets also faced a sixth WCC team, Santa Clara, in a preseason exhibition game.
Defensive Player of the Week
Junior goalkeeper James Del Curto was selected at the Big West Defensive Player of the week on Sept. 12. The Santa Rosa native led the Hornets to a 1-0 shutout win over Loyola Marymount with seven saves to record his fifth career clean sheet. He made five stops in the first half and two in the second, including a save off a scramble in the box in the final 10 seconds of regulation time. Del Curto, who led the Big West with 4.64 saves per game last season, was also chosen as the Federated Insurance Sacramento State Student-Athlete of the Week.
A Long Road to Home
In non-conference play Sacramento State began the season with four straight road games (after two road exhibition games) before playing its last four non-conference matches all at home. Only once before, in 2002, have the Hornets opened the year with four straight road contests. Last year the team began the season with three straight road games but did have two home exhibition games.
Sacramento State plays the entire 2016 season in the state of California. All 18 games will be played in the Golden State and 16 of the 18 contests are against other California teams. The only outliers are two Hornet home games, against Portland and Utah Valley. All 26 players on the Hornet roster went to high school in California.
A Veteran Squad
Sacramento State has 10 seniors and six juniors on its 2016 roster, among the most veteran sides for coach Michael Linenberger in his 28 seasons with the program. The team returned nine starters from last season, five of which are now seniors and three of which are juniors. The Hornets returned 17 total letter winners, having lost just three seniors in 2015.
Sophomore Brad Bumgarner earned some preseason accolades as he was named to the Preseason all-Big West team. As a redshirt freshman last season Bumgarner was named to the Freshman all-Big West team after leading the Hornets and tying for second in the league with seven goals and three game-winning goals. Bumgarner scored on three of his first four career shots on goal and totaled four goals and one assist in Big West play.
The men's soccer program became the first team from Sacramento State to travel internationally, going for a nine-day trip to Costa Rica this past January. The team played four games against professional Costa Rican teams and went 2-1-1 with an aggregate score of 7-4. The group, comprised of 22 student-athletes and six staff members, also toured the country and participated in community service events during a memorable visit.
Big West Tests
A pair of Big West teams have appeared in the national rankings and both reside in the North division along with the Hornets. UC Santa Barbara is currently No. 18 in the Top Drawer rankings and has been as high as No. 5 in the nation this year. Cal Poly received votes in the NSCAA preseason poll.
For the second consecutive year Sacramento State won its season series against Causeway rival UC Davis in 2015. In each of the last two seasons the Hornets went 1-0-1 against the Aggies, having last lost to them in October 2013. Over the last four meetings the Hornets have allowed just three UCD goals with two shutouts.
Big West Progress
In its fifth season as a member of the Big West Conference, consistently one of the top men's soccer conferences in the nation, the Hornets are looking to qualify for the Big West Tournament for the second time in the last three years. Sacramento State finished ahead of Cal Poly in the Big West North to earn its first berth in the conference tournament in 2014 and was in contention for the postseason going into its final game last year.