SACRAMENTO, Calif. - With a berth in the Big West Tournament already secured, Sacramento State (8-6-2, 4-3-1 Big West) enters the final week of the regular season with a chance to finish second in the North and host a first round tournament game or even claim the regular season title. The Hornets host division-leading UC Santa Barbara (9-5-3, 5-0-3 Big West) at 3 p.m. Wednesday before closing the regular season at 7 p.m. Saturday at Cal Poly (3-9-3, 1-5-2 Big West).
Wednesday's game will be senior day, with the 10 Hornet seniors to be honored prior to their final regular season home game. A win on Wednesday would clinch at least one more home game for the large senior class in the postseason.
Big West Breakdown
Sacramento State has 13 points in Big West play while UC Santa Barbara leads the North division with 18 and UC Davis is in third place with nine. To claim the top spot the Hornets need to beat the Gauchos on Wednesday AND have a win and a UCSB loss or tie on Saturday. Sacramento State controls its own destiny for second place and would clinch second with a win OR a UC Davis loss on Wednesday. Even if the Hornets lose on Wednesday and UC Davis wins, Sacramento State would still be able to finish second with a win or an Aggie loss on Saturday.
The top team in the final division standings earns a bye in the first round of the Big West Tournament and gets to host a semifinal game. The second place team in the North hosts the No. 3 seed from the Big West South division in the first round of the tournament on Saturday, Nov. 5. The Hornets will be making their second appearance in the postseason since joining the Big West and would be hosting a Big West Tournament game for the first time if they finish first or second in the division.
Scouting UC Santa Barbara (9-5-3, 5-0-3 Big West)
UC Santa Barbara is the only undefeated team in the Big West this season and can clinch its fourth consecutive Big West North Division title with one more win or Hornet loss. The Gauchos lead the Big West with 29 goals and 85 points but were shut out for just the second time this season in a scoreless draw against Cal Poly on Saturday. UCSB is 4-1-1 on the road this season with its only road loss at No. 10 Akron. In the first meeting between the teams this season the Hornets earned a point in Santa Barbara for the first time since joining the Big West with a 1-1 draw on Oct. 12. Sacramento State came away with a 5-2 upset of the Gauchos, who were ranked No. 13 in the nation at the time, when the teams met at Hornet Field last year.
Scouting Cal Poly (3-9-3, 1-5-2 Big West)
Cal Poly needs to win at UC Davis on Wednesday to keep its Big West Tournament hopes alive. The Mustangs would also need a win or draw and a UC Davis loss on Saturday to overtake the Aggies for the final qualifying spot. Cal Poly's lone Big West win to this point came at home against UC Davis on Oct. 12 and the Mustangs remain the lowest scoring team in the Big West and one of the poorest offensive teams in Div. I with just 11 goals scored in 15 games this season. Sacramento State beat Cal Poly, 1-0, last Wednesday at Hornet Field on a 43rd minute goal from freshman Christian Webb. Sacramento State won at Cal Poly in 2014 but is just 3-9-0 all-time in San Luis Obispo.
With its recent success Sacramento State has moved up to No. 89 in the NCAA Div. I Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). The Hornets are the second highest ranked team in the Big West behind UC Santa Barbara, but the Gauchos are just two spots ahead at No. 87. RPI takes into account a team's record, its opponents record, and the record of it's opponents opponents. Sacramento State has several wins over high RPI teams this year, including nationally ranked Utah Valley and Loyola Marymount, and played a challenging non-conference schedule before having success in the highly competitive Big West Conference.
Sacramento State's huge senior class plays its final regular season home game on Wednesday. The group has combined for 16 of the team's 19 goals this year. Seniors Alex Bettencourt, Nate Nugen, and Ivan Ramirez have combined for 39 of the team's 60 points this season, with Bettencourt tallying six goals, Nugen five, and Ramirez scoring four. The team has also been led defensively by seniors including John Quintanilla, Argenis Ramos, Andrew Gosselin, Preston Davis, Javier Muñoz, and Bert Corona, and goalkeeper Philip Bru.
Sacramento State is 9-4-2 on Hornet Field over its last 15 matches and the team has a home win over a ranked team in two consecutive seasons. The 2016 squad has tallied 12 goals through its first eight home games of the season to go 5-2-1.
Sacramento State is undefeated (3-0-1) since the 2012 season playing at Causeway rival UC Davis. The Hornets are also 3-1-2 overall against the Aggies over the last three seasons, winning the season series in two of the three years.
On Monday, junior goalkeeper James Del Curto was named Big West Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season. He became just the 10th player in Big West men's soccer history to win three Player of the Week honors in one season.
On a Roll
After a 1-3-0 start to the season Sacramento State has gone 7-3-2 since. The team is also one win away from tying the program record for Big West wins in a season since joining the league in 2011. With one more win they could also match the program record for Big West points in a season of 16, set in 2012 (5-4-1).
The 1-1 tie between Sacramento State and UC Santa Barbara last Wednesday at Harder Stadium marked the first time the Hornets earned a point in Santa Barbara since joining the Big West in 2011. Perennially one of the toughest road venues in all of NCAA Div. I, the Hornets had been just 1-8-1 all-time at Harder with the only win in 1992 and the lone tie in 1998.
In the September 27 National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Far West region poll Sacramento State was ranked No. 8. The team defeated two of the other teams in the regional ranking, No. 7 Portland and No. 9 Loyola Marymount. The ranking was the first the Hornets have received in the regional poll since the 2011 season.
Coming Through in the Clutch
Senior forwards Alex Bettencourt and Nate Nugen are tied for the Big West lead and tied for 27th in NCAA Div. I with three game-winning goals apiece this season. All three of Nugen's game-winning goals have come in Big West Conference play, as he has scored the game winner in three of the team's four Big West wins.
Two Will Do
The Hornets are undefeated this year and 13-2-1 since 2014 when scoring two or more goals. The team has been able to win when scoring just one goal as well, as it has in seven 1-0 wins over the last three seasons.
Four Straight Players of the Week
The Hornets had a Big West Player of the Week honor in four consecutive weeks. James Del Curto earned his first on Sept. 12 before seniors Alex Bettencourt and Ivan Ramirez took home the Offensive Player of the Week honor over the next two weeks. Del Curto picked up his second Defensive honor Oct. 3 and he earned the team's five weekly award of the season on Monday.
Raise the Copa
Sacramento State won the semi-annual Copa De Causeway tournament, upsetting No. 15 Utah Valley, 3-2, and tying Saint Mary's, 1-1. The Hornets were the only team in the tournament, which also included UC Davis, that did not lose a game. Seniors Ivan Ramirez, Alex Bettencourt, and Argenis Ramos and junior Paul Geyer were named to the all-Tournament team.
Ivan on Fire
Ivan Ramirez was named Big West Offensive Player of the Week Sept. 26 after tallying three goals and an assist to lead the Hornets to the Copa De Causeway crown. He had a hand in all three Hornet goals in the 3-2 upset of #15 Utah Valley, scoring the first and third goals and assisting on the second. He also tallied the lone Hornet goal on a PK in the 1-1 draw vs. Saint Mary's. Over a three game stretch, starting with the San Jose State game on Sept. 18, the senior midfielder had four goals and two assists for 10 points.
Living Out West
Sacramento State's eight non-conference games were 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 played two more WAC opponents and wrapped up with WCC member Saint Mary's. The Hornets also faced a sixth WCC team, Santa Clara, in a preseason exhibition game. Sacramento State finished 2-1-0 against the WAC and 2-2-1 against the WCC schools.
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 were 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.
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.