The UCSB men’s soccer team was selected by the Big West coaches to capture its league-record sixth championship in 2008 as the conference released its annual coaches poll Monday. The Gauchos, who have won the past two league titles, claimed six first-place votes en route to 47 points for the top spot.

In the past seven seasons, UCSB has won five Big West crowns and advanced to postseason play six straight times.

With preseason rankings of No. 9 by College Soccer News and No. 21 by the NSCAA, the Gauchos return reigning Big West Offensive Player of the Year Chris Pontius, who tallied 11 goals and two assists last season, as well as First-Team All-Big West selection Alfonso Motagalvan, who scored five goals and added four assists in 2007.

Pontius, a forward, and Motagalvan, a midfielder, are both heading into their senior seasons. Santa Barbara also returns senior forward Nick Perera, the 2006 College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player in leading UCSB to the national championship.

Despite losing four-time All-American defender Andy Iro and key contributors Eric Avila and Ciaran O’Brien, the Gauchos are buoyed by a large recruiting class that was ranked sixth-best in the nation by CSN.

UC Davis, in its second year as a Division I program, finished second in the coaches poll with 39 points, followed closely by Cal Poly with 38 points. The Gauchos will face Cal Poly in a game televised by the Fox Soccer Channel on Oct. 17 in San Luis Obispo.

Cal State Northridge was fourth in the poll with 26 points, and UC Irvine placed fifth with 20 total points. Rounding out the rest of the poll was UC Riverside (15) and Cal State Fullerton (11).

UCSB, which finished 2007 with a 13-4-4 overall record (9-1-2 Big West), opens its 2008 season with an exhibition match against Westmont at 7 p.m. Saturday. The regular season kicks off at Harder Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29 as the Gauchos host Air Force.

Scott Flanders is UCSB‘s associate media relations director.

2008 Big West Conference Preseason Coaches Poll
() First-place votes

» UC Santa Barbara (6), 47 points

» UC Davis (1), 39 points

» Cal Poly, 38 points

» Cal State Northridge, 26 points

» UC Irvine, 20 points

» UC Riverside, 15 points

» Cal State Fullerton, 11 points