This season should be when Scott Juniper’s women’s squad takes it to the next level, and George Kuntz’s squad bounces back.
Juniper led last season’s team, his first, to an 11-7-2 record. They bounced back from an abysmal season the year before in legendary former U.S. women’s soccer player April Hinrich’s only season at UC Irvine as head coach.
However, Juniper continued to build on the system Hinrich set and used the recruiting classes he courted under Hinrich to build a solid foundation. He established that young core talent in his first season. Sophomores Nikki Forrest, Tanya Taylor, Caty Cope and Danielle de Seriere were the headliners of that first recruiting class under Juniper. Seriere is already sixth all time in shutouts, and the others reminded us that there is such a thing as an offense after the squad prior seemed to have never scored.
Juniper has brought in yet another impressive freshman class that looks to replicate last year’s class’ success. The upperclassmen have the experience now and the resurrected confidence.
Last year’s team surprised everyone by finishing third in the conference and making it to the semi-finals of the Big West Tournament. Now we know that they can make it that far, but they must shoot for the title. If the team continues to progress as it has been doing, the program should reach the level it expected when it made a high profile hiring by employing April Hinrich.
However, the exception in this case is that her former assistant will bring success rather than her as head coach
The story of the men’s soccer program takes a different route than the women’s. Two seasons ago, in the 2006 campaign, the men’s team had the breakout season everyone was waiting for only to see the NCAA selection committee snub the talented Anteater squad a spot in the tournament.
The following season, the returning players looked for redemption and started off hot. Their early success mysteriously faded into dysfunction as the ‘Eaters became one of the weakest programs in the Big West. Nothing seemed to be going right.
Now the Anteaters are back from a quality off-season and have a clean slate. The highlight of the off-season may have been when UCI seemed to have toyed with historical soccer giant UCLA in an exhibition game.
A win like that has to get the players motivated and committed to the off-season. If that was not enough excitement, Jurgen Klinsmann, a friend of Coach Kuntz spoke with the team for about an hour in June. For those who are unfamiliar, Klinsmann was one of the most premier forwards in Germany. He won the World Cup in 1990 and managed the Germans to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup.
His managing style, which stresses consistent attack, was credited with reviving the German national soccer team and he was well respected for his efforts.
He recently accepted a managerial job at Bayern Munich, the top soccer club in Germany. Before he departed, he carried a discussion with the Anteaters and gave them insight on many facets of the game.
Klinsmann provided something new and real for the players, an inspiration hopefully for next season.
Let’s hope he inspired every player because Kuntz fields a whopping 29-man roster, which should create enough competition to field the best Anteater squad possible. Headlining this year’s team is senior Matt Murphy. He is a former Big West Midfielder of the Year and looks to anchor the midfield with fellow senior Shane Westbrook.
Sophomore Gray Bailey impressed many all year last season with his play on defense by creating many scoring opportunities with his catapult thrown-ins.
Forwards Amani Walker and Spencer Thompson are back for their second year and should find the back of the net often at forward, and fellow classman Pat Barton should be denying it to many opponents all season long.
This squad has the talent, it is all up to the cohesion and style of play the team imposes for it to redeem its 2006 snubbing.
By all indication, both the men‘s and women’s teams here at UCI are on the rise. If they both do reach success, just remember, you heard it here.
Filed Under: Sports