With several returning players off a team that reached the Big West Tournament final last season, the UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer team has been picked as the favorite to win the conference in a preseason coaches’ poll.

The Gauchos edged out defending Big West champion UC Riverside, which beat them in last year’s title match. UCSB tallied 72 points and received three first-place votes.  Riverside had 69 points but picked up four first-place votes. 

Third-place Cal State Northridge (2) and fourth-place UC Irvine (1) collected the remaining votes.

Sacramento State and UC Davis tied for fifth in the points followed by Cal State Fullerton, UC San Diego, Cal Poly and Cal State Bakersfield.

UCSB led all teams with three players on the Big West Preseason Team. The honors go to senior goalkeeper Leroy Zeller, junior forward Alexis Ledoux and senior midfielder Lucas Gonzalez 

Zeller was the Big West Goalkeeper of the Year last season and was named to the United Soccer Coaches All-Far West Region Second Team. Earlier this month, United Soccer Coaches named him one of six Goalkeepers to Watch in 2023.  

Ledoux started 14 matches as a sophomore and finished fifth on the team in points.

Gonzalez, who will serve as the Gaucho’ captain this season, has started the most games of any returning field player. He was named to the All-Big West Second Team in 2022.

The other preseason all-conference players are senior midfielder Alessandro Allen of UC San Diego; senior defender Eddy Berumen and junior midfielder Francisco Montanile of UC Irvine; junior defender Giovanni Calderon of Cal State Fullerton; senior defender Brendan Clark of UC Riverside; senior forward Ethan Hoard of UC Davis; junior forward Jamar Ricketts of CSUN, and senior forward Austin Wehner of Sacramento State.

UCSB hits the field on Saturday, Aug. 19 in the annual Community Shield exhibition match against Westmont at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium. The regular season opener is Aug. 25 at home against Oral Roberts.

 Big West Men’s Soccer Preseason Coaches’ Poll

  1. UCSB, 72 points (3 first-place votes)
  2. UC Riverside 69 (4)
  3. CSUN 63 (2)
  4. UC Irvine 62 (1)
  5. Sacramento State 42
  6. UC Davis, 42
  7. Cal State Fullerton 38
  8. UC San Diego 33
  9. Cal Poly 20
  10. Cal State Bakersfield 9

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.