SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Eight members of the UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team were named to Big West All-Conference teams and three student-athletes earned player of the year awards, as the conference released its list of awardees on Tuesday afternoon.
Senior wingback Noah Billingsley earned Defensive Player of the Year honors, senior attacking midfielder Thibault Candia was selected as Co-Midfielder of the Year, and freshman attacking midfielder Finn Ballard McBride earned the nod as Freshman of the Year.
In addition, the Gauchos landed five players on the All-Conference First Team, with junior right winger Rodney Michael, senior defensive midfielder Sahid Conteh, and junior centerback Hunter Ashworth joining Billingsley and Candia.
Sophomore goalkeeper Ben Roach and Ballard McBride were UCSB's two honorees on the All-Big West Second Team, while the latter was also selected to the All-Freshman Team.
Senior striker Will Baynham was Santa Barbara's lone student-athlete on the honorable mention list, bringing the tally up to eight players selected across the four teams.
Noah Billingsley – Defensive Player of the Year
Billingsley becomes the eighth Gaucho to be selected the league's top defensive player and the first since Kevin Garcia-Lopez in 2014. The Kiwi is one of the key reasons as to why UCSB ranked second in the Big West in goals against average (0.89) and fewest goals allowed (18). He played in seven of Santa Barbara's ten shutouts when not representing New Zealand at the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) U-23 Championship in Fiji. Opponents scored just 10 goals in the 13 games he started this season.
As a wingback, he was also a key piece of the buildup and attack for the Gauchos. His five assists this season are good for eighth in the conference, and his triple-assist game at Cal State Fullerton on Oct. 12 was UCSB's first since 2003 when Memo Arzate did the same.
Thibault Candia – Co-Midfielder of the Year
Candia is the sixth Gaucho to earn the nod as a midfielder of the year and the first since Kevin Feucht in 2016. The Frenchman's 18 points (six goals, six assists) are tied for eighth-most in the Big West. He was one of just two players in the league with a hat trick this season after putting three goals past UMBC on Sept. 22.
This is the third Big West All-Conference First Team honor in Michael's career, making the list as the only three-time honoree. Michael was held without a goal or an assist in UCSB's first six matches of the season, but it was just a matter of time before the Freetown, Sierra Leone forward would get rolling as he roared back with an eight-game point streak, recording four goals and six assists between Sept. 22 and Oct. 16. Since his return from injury in Santa Barbara's final regular season match at Cal Poly, he put up an assist in that match and added a three-point performance with a goal and an assist against CSUN in the Big West Tournament Semifinal on Nov. 9.
Making the first team for the first time in his career, Conteh has been, other than Roach, the most consistent part of what was a constantly-revolving defensive unit for the Gauchos throughout the season. He was a shutdown defender, constantly intercepting passes and closing in on attackers before they could get to the backline or get a shot off. The Freetown, Sierra Leone-native put up a goal and two assists in the regular season and added another assist in UCSB's Big West Tournament semifinal win against CSUN, as all his offensive contributions came in Gaucho wins.
Ashworth was selected to the First Team for the second year in a row. Anchoring the backline along with senior centerback Faouzi Taieb and fellow countryman Billingsley, he helped UCSB rank second in the Big West in goals against average (0.89) and fewest goals allowed (18). He played in seven of Santa Barbara's ten shutouts when not representing New Zealand at the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) U-23 Championship in Fiji. Opponents scored just 10 goals in the 13 games he started this season.
The Laguna Beach, Calif.-native got on the scoresheet once this season, heading a Candia corner kick goalward in UCSB's 5-0 win at Cal State Fullerton on Oct. 12.
Finn Ballard McBride – Freshman Player of the Year
Ballard McBride is UCSB's ninth freshman of the year in the past 11 seasons, joining a long list that began with Michael Davis in 2009 and stretched to include Rodney Michael in 2017 and Ben Roach in 2018. The Australian tied for the Big West lead in goals with nine, seeing exactly half of his 18 shots taken reach the back of the net. He ranked second in the conference with 20 points after tacking on two assists to his goal tally. Six of his nine goals came against Big West opponents, two of which were game-winners, and he also scored against then-No. 1 Stanford on Sept. 28.
Roach follows up his Big West Freshman Player of the Year award from last season with a selection to the All-Conference second team. Roach has played every minute of every game this season for the Gauchos between the sticks, anchoring Santa Barbara to 10 shutouts (including the Gauchos' 2-0 win against CSUN on Oct. 9), the most for the Gauchos in a single season since 2010. At the conclusion of the regular season, Roach posted a 0.89 goals-against average, which would tie for 10th-best single-season goals-against average in program history. Roach earned Defensive Player of the Week honors twice this season.
After transferring from Yavapai College for his final season of eligibility, Baynham made an instant impact for UCSB. The Brisbane, Australia-native scored in his first Division I game, delivering an overtime win over UNLV for the Gauchos in their season opener.
Later on in the season, he recorded a goal or assist in five straight games from Sept. 22 to Oct. 5, and seven of nine from Sept. 15 to Oct. 12.
Finn Ballard McBride
The Gauchos will travel north to face UC Davis on Friday, with kickoff at Aggie Soccer Field scheduled for 2:00 p.m. The game will be taking place on Friday due to a conflict with a UC Davis football game on Saturday afternoon.
Links to the Aggies' live video stream, a UCSB live audio stream with Arthur Wilkie on play-by-play and current Gaucho student-athlete Carson Vom Steeg on color, live stats, and tickets are available on the men's soccer schedule page.