By Melody Chu
With all their recent successes, the UC Santa Cruz men’s soccer team may be one of the largest contributors in changing the school’s attitude toward sports.
Girls wearing "Certified Slug Fans: Hardcore Soccer Groupies" t-shirts roam the sidelines at games, which the girls claim they never miss. UCSC, rarely known as a sports powerhouse, now attracts a sizable, energetic crowd to the Lower East Field during every one of the soccer team’s home games.
And these days, the team can even be spotted signing autographs.
"It’s just really good seeing soccer take off in Santa Cruz," third-year Tim DeGrasse said after signing his first-ever autograph for a young fan. "Having [young soccer players] look up to us is nice."
Still rolling through the season, the Slugs (16-1) nailed down a 2-0 win over Gustavus Adolophus (12-2-1) last Sunday in a match-up that could have playoff implications.
With just three more games left in the season, the team still has no idea if they will be heading to the DIII playoffs. While the Slugs have lost only one game all season and allowed just four goals against, UCSC would still need an at-large bid to enter the playoffs as a result of their status as an independent school.
Some fans, including self-proclaimed "groupies" Hailey Snow and Dana Jones, have already started planning ahead.
"We’ll be traveling for the playoff games," Snow said. "Our cheering brings down the confidence of the other team."
Meanwhile, the Slugs remain focused on winning, because every game is crucial in determining their chances for postseason glory.
The Slugs matched Gustavus Adolophus defensively, and went into halftime scoreless. But junior Matt Skenazy put the Slugs ahead with a score in the 46th minute, and captain Steve Wondolowski padded the lead with a penalty kick in the 71st minute.
"The offense has really taken off," said Jared Wheeler, the starting goalkeeper. "It’s fun to watch beautiful soccer and knowing that we’ll put them away."
No soccer game is complete without a fair share of excitement, and this one was no different. With just five minutes to go, an Adolophus shot on goal glanced off the crossbar of the Slugs’ net with a ominous thud as the crowd, and head coach Dan Chamberlain, gasped.
"I got a couple of gray hairs with that one," Chamberlain said. "We came against a great team and we got lucky. [Gustavus Adolophus] definitely made us a better team today."
Junior defender Jeremy Abrams agreed.
"It seems like every time we get an opportunity, we get lucky," Abrams said. "I’m just really proud of the way we’ve been playing."
The shutout win brought the team’s season total to 15. Few people could have predicted that the Slugs would be so successful this year after Chamberlain took over the coaching position from Paul Holocher. Holocher resigned from UCSC earlier this year after accepting the head coaching position at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, taking several players with him.
The change allowed several members of the current squad, including senior midfielder Anthony Scarlett and junior forward Matt Skenazy, to step into the spotlight and become key contributors this year.
Many players on the team credit the crowd with providing a real home-field advantage.
"Our fans are awesome, they give us a lot of confidence," Wheeler said. "We love it when they get loud."
John Wondoloski, father of team captain Steve Wondoloski, was among the fans in attendance at Sunday’s game.
"They have this image of being one of the best teams in the country," Wondoloski explained while intently watching the action on the field. "Success builds success. They have this expectation that they are going to go into every game and win."It sure helps that not only are the Slugs a winning team, they’re also a fun team to watch.
Wondoloski added, "When there is 75 degree weather and the ocean’s right there, there are very few places you’d rather be."And of course, the groupies agreed.The UCSC men’s soccer team has one more home game left this season, at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3 against Chapman University on the Lower East Field.