The last UC Irvine women’s soccer season was an unstable one. There was a new coach, a number of inexperienced players, a weak attack and many key losses due to injuries.
Last year’s headline was the hiring of U.S. women’s soccer legend April Heinrichs. However, the team did not experience much success. The big weakness was goal scoring. This year, that is not the case.
Heinrichs unexpectedly left the coaching position to pursue a better opportunity with the U.S. women’s soccer. Assistant Coach Scott Juniper replaced her as head coach and his guidance has led the team to an unexpected early success.
The team is off to an impressive 4-1-1 start. Juniper attributes this to an understanding of the system.
‘Our level of understanding of the system we are playing is high up. We built on the principles we learned last year. Once we got to that point, that foundation, we have been able to step up,’ Juniper said.
When asked about the reason for success, senior captain Mackenzie Beahm agrees with Juniper.
‘We are pretty much the same team, we lost a few seniors, but everyone has stepped up. In turn, that has lead to some goals.’
The Anteaters have already surpassed their total number of goals scored last season in games with 11 goals. Sophomore midfielder Kate Berrini leads the Anteaters with four goals and seniors Frankee Kelly and Kim Horn have three and two goals, respectively.
While the returning players have brought composure and experience, the freshmen have brought energy and relentless play.
‘Tanya Taylor has played great for us up front and has two goals to show for it. Nikki Forest is playing great in the middle, winning balls and even has a goal. Freshman goalkeeper Danielle de Seriere has been impressive and has won the job in goal,’ Juniper said.
The Anteaters played Eastern Michigan on Sunday in a tough grueling match that ended in a 0-0 tie. The Anteaters were oversized and a little fatigued. However, they played tough and hung in there against a physical Eastern Michigan squad.
‘This team was a physical team, and they kept disrupting our flow. They were bigger and older. However, we didn’t play our best today, but we are going to have those kinds of days. We didn’t play that well, and we still managed to keep a shutout. Definitely a positive to take away from this game,’ Juniper said.
When asked about his experience as a first-year head coach at the collegiate level, Juniper said, ‘First year has been great. The university has been great so far and these assistant coaches are helping me so much. Everyone has responded, from the freshmen to the returning players.’
The Anteaters were kept scoreless against Eastern Michigan for the first time this season since their opening day 3-0 loss to Fresno State. Other than that, Irvine has won with scores of 3-0, 2-0, 2-0 and 6-0. The victories, which were also all shutouts, came in consecutive fashion.
With a start like that, Beahm has high hopes for the rest of the season. ‘Our goals for this year are definitely getting to the Big West Tournament, having a winning record and, for me as a defensive leader, shutouts are big.’
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