Eight UCSB men’s soccer players were honored by the Big West Conference coaches on Tuesday.
Heading the list were senior right back Noah Billingsley, freshman midfielder Finn Ballard McBride and senior midfielder Thibault Candia.
Billingsley, who is a member of the U23 New Zealand national team that qualified for the Olympics in September, was named the Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year after dominating opponents as the Gauchos’ left back. Billingsley is the eighth UCSB player in program history to be named the league’s top defender, and the first since Kevin Garcia-Lopez in 2014.
Billingsley is a big reason why the Gauchos are ranked second in the Big West in goals-against average at 0.89, while allowing the fewest amount of goals (18). Opponents have scored just 10 goals in the 13 games Billingsley has started this season.
He missed five matches while competing with the New Zealand U23 team.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I’ll take it,” he said of the honor. “Just on our team alone we have some unbelievable defenders, and obviously the rest of the Big West teams have good defenders, as well.”
Billingsley began his UCSB career as a striker.
“It’s nice to get a little bit of recognition as a defender now, because, obviously, I still consider myself an attacker,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s good because, obviously, I’ve been working really hard toward trying to change my game a little bit. I still have a long way to go, but it is quite nice to be recognized.”
Ballard McBride, a native of Australia, and Candia, a Frenchman, were named Big West Conference Freshman of the Year and co-Midfielder of the Year, respectively.
Ballard McBride, who leads UCSB in scoring with nine goals, is the third consecutive Gaucho to win the award following goalkeeper Ben Roach last season and forward Rodney Michael in 2017.
“It’s always good to win awards and I think we’ve got a rich history of winning it, at least in recent memory,” Ballard McBride said. “With Ben getting it last year and Rodney the year before, it’s good to keep the tradition going at UCSB.
“It shows how well we’ve kind of worked together this year, and as a result of the team doing well, we win a few awards as individuals.”
Candia is the sixth UCSB player to earn Big West Midfielder of the Year honors, and the first since Kevin Feucht in 2016.
Candia, who shares this year’s honor with UC Irvine’s Victor Falck, has six goals and six assists. He was also one of only two Big West players to score three goals in one game. Candia did it against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Sept. 22.
“Noah, Finn and me getting awards, it means that the team is working well this season,” Candia said. “It’s also thanks to my teammates that I got that award because, since the beginning of the season, we as a team have played very good soccer.
“I’m also happy because it means the other coaches recognize the hard work we have put in and the talent we have.”
Michael, midfielder Sahid Conteh and center back Hunter Ashworth were named to the Big West Conference First Team.
Sophomore goalkeeper Ben Roach, who has 10 shutouts this season, was named to the Big West Second Team along with Ballard McBride. Senior forward Will Baynham surprisingly only received Honorable Mention recognition. Baynham has been one of the top forwards in conference all season, and is second on the Gauchos with seven goals.
UCSB plays at UC Davis on Friday for the Big West Conference Tournament title. The Gauchos have a number of starters back who did not play in the Oct. 23 match that ended in a 1-1 draw.
“This is the closest we’ve been to a starting lineup since the first 20 minutes of UNLV (in the season opener),” UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “
Friday’s match at Davis begins at 2 p.m., and can be heard live on ucsbgauchos.com.