The biggest story in UC Irvine sports this past week was the heavily-anticipated match-up between the 25th-ranked Anteaters (5-2-2, 0-1) and 12th-ranked UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.
On Wednesday, the Anteaters traveled to Santa Barbara, where they expected a large Gaucho crowd. UC Santa Barbara won the Big West title last year, while UCI placed second. UCSB was the lone representative of the conference in the NCAA tournament, after UCI was snubbed. UCSB impressively went on to capture the national title.
Considering that UCI split the season series with UCSB, UCI was left wondering how it could have done in the tournament.
However, this is a new season, and the highly-ranked Gauchos would be a big obstacle on their way to a Big West title.
In front of a nationally-televised crowd, the Gauchos proved to be too much to handle for the Anteaters, who suffered a 4-0 loss. UCSB’s Chris Pontius recorded a hat trick and solidified his team as the team to beat in the Big West.
‘Our players were pretty nervous; you could see it, but it was a great learning experience. Santa Barbara played with a high level of intensity. This loss was very difficult for the players. They are all competitors,’ said Coach George Kuntz.
Kuntz told his players that he was not happy and ‘that he was disappointed with the physicality and intensity of the pace.’
After winning its first five games of the season, UCI has gone winless in its last five games. It recorded three ties and two losses in the span, including a 1-1 tie with Cal State Northridge on Saturday night at Anteater Stadium.
Saturday night’s game saw freshman Corey Attaway score his first career goal at UCI in the seventh minute. Attaway blazed down the right side of the field on a breakaway and finished by blasting the ball into the back of the net on an impressive unassisted goal. The Matadors equalized in the 48th minute on a goal by Sunghyun Kim. Both teams could not score another goal in the match. UCI out-shot CSUN 11-8 on the match, which included two overtime periods.
‘Although we’re disappointed with a tie, it was an improvement. It’s very difficult after the game two days before with the kind of level and intensity and emotion to play the next game against a team that had just beat UCLA 3-0. I was much happier with our performance,’ Kuntz said.
What comes to mind when trying to find a reason for the Anteaters’ latest skid?
The Anteaters are a young squad. They lost their two top scorers last year to graduation. They proved strong against weaker competition, but have been okay or bad against ranked opponents. UCI tied ninth-ranked Brown University, but suffered an embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Big West rival and 12th ranked UCSB. Their inexperience may have caught up with them.
Another legitimate point is the team’s fatigue. Four of the last five games have gone into double overtime. That means the team had to play a grueling extra 80 minutes total over those four games, many of the players coming in consecutive games that ended in unsatisfying ties or losses. This stretch ought to be tough on the bodies and minds of the players. Kuntz, however, does not want to attribute UCI’s recent play to fatigue.
‘There’s no question playing overtime games is taxing. Our team is fit, we have a lot of depth and we prepare for overtime games.’
Whatever the reason, the Anteaters should learn from their mistakes and keep playing tough. Eventually, the goals will come, and the chemistry will click. If anything, the recent lack of success will humble the team after its five-game winning streak and fire up the team to focus and fight for more.
The talent is there. All we need now is the cohesion.
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