The two freshmen quickly turned around apprehensively to see what the deal was. The next words that came out of the guy’s mouth were very unexpected. It was an Irvine student obnoxiously yelling, “Hey, good stuff on Saturday night. Good job. We’ll be there on Tuesday night to support you guys.”
That interaction with a student was like night and day from the support he got during the early parts of the season. Before, people were surprised to hear Irvine had a team. But that may have been a fluke. Maybe it was just one fan. Yeah right.
As the two freshmen entered the bagel shop, they were met by some insane Anteater fan love. A group of guys at the counter immediately turned around and told them how excited they are about soccer. Then another group in the corner gave a shout out to the players and it became apparent how important Fontein’s last soccer game really was.
Two Saturdays ago was a big night for the team and for the school. When the whistle blew, the Anteater faithfuls rushed the field as the scoreboard read UCI 4, UCSB 2, and the men’s soccer team had finally won a conference championship. The championship had been a long timecoming and for the older players, it was something they had been working for years to accomplish.
However, when it was time to hand out the Most Valuable Player hardware, it was the one guy in the starting lineup that had been waiting the least amount of time. Freshman goalkeeper Andrew Fontein was awarded the MVP of the Big West Conference Championship, and deservedly so.
“It is just something that is kind of ‘bragging rightish,'” Fontein said about his MVP honor. “But when it comes down to it, there are a lot more things that are important concerning the team right now. So, yeah it is cool, but it is not really something I am focusing on.”
His approach toward the game is beyond his years. Merely six months out of Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, Fontein has done something that no other UC Irvine goalkeeper has done before. As a freshman, he has been named Big West Co-Freshman of the Year after accumulating a goals-against-average of just under one and registering four shutouts on the season.
His time at UCI has been short, but in the few months with the program, Fontein has brought a confidence to the team that has made it very hard to beat. With Fontein between the posts, UCI has a winning percentage of 81 percent that ranks seventh in the nation. But what the stats do not show is Fontein’s journey from where he started to where he is now. Not unlike most kids, Fontein started playing various sports, but it was on the soccer field that he felt the most at home.
“I played soccer since I was five and I always liked soccer,” Fontein said. “I played a lot of sports like all kids, but I don’t know. There was something about soccer and keeper in particular, that I just really liked.”
Not only did Fontein like playing keeper, but the people watching him liked it as well.
He was a four-year starter at Sierra Vista High School and proved himself as a keeper that takes big moments in stride. Fontein only allowed five goals in his entire senior season.
“He was a phenomenal player all four years and we built our program around him,” said Sierra Vista Head Coach Ryan Quinn. “He is the type of player that excels when the pressure is on. In all of our toughest games last year, he had his best games.”
While Fontein was a four-time All-Sunset League first team selection, he also played for Las Vegas Premier throughout and was a standout in the program. However, it was when he made a trip to Ireland with an Orange County-based club team named South Coast Bayern that his first steps to coming to Irvine were being made.
Fontein went with the team to an international tournament called the Milk Cup in Ireland and performed extremely well. Well enough in fact, that his coach from that team, Vishtasp Farhadi, started telling UCI Head Coach George Kuntz to look at picking up Fontein for the 2008 season.
Kuntz and his staff had already signed two other keepers for the upcoming season, but decided to talk to Fontein anyway. Kuntz met some resistance from Fontein about the idea of coming to UCI because it meant going out of state. Fontein decided to hold off on committing to Irvine and looked around. In the meantime, Kuntz signed two more keepers, and it was getting late for Fontein to commit to a school.
But it was better late than never for Fontein, and he decided to come to UCI.
“It was a late decision coming here. I didn’t actually end up signing here until really late in my senior year, but I am glad I did. I’m not going to lie; I love it here,” Fontein said.
When he came to preseason in mid-summer, he had to beat out four other goalies to grab the second string spot behind the 2007 starter Pat Barton. He not only beat out the four other guys, but when Barton was hurt early in the season, he won the starting spot and has not given it up.
“He just took the position and has not let go of it. Nothing really intimidates him,” Coach Kuntz said. “He is very down-to-earth, level-headed and humble. [None] of the success has gone to his head, and he has been really wonderful that way for us.”
The success Kuntz talked about is not only their historic run to the NCAA, but the fact that Fontein has been able to successfully navigate being a freshman on a championship team and has excelled.
However, if you were to talk to Fontein, he will chalk it up to the people he has around him and how they integrated him by giving him as much respect as they would give to anyone else on the field.
“Everyone has been really welcoming, and it is easy to perform in front of a team like that. I feel like the more you play and perform well, the more respect you gain from your team, and you become a little more confident. Now, I don’t feel like I have to impress anyone,” Fontein said.
The respect he received from his teammates not only improved his confidence, but it allowed him to have a voice in the back field. A feat not easily attainable by a true freshman but then again, nothing Fontein has done this year is easily attainable.
As he and his team attempt to continue the historic trip into and through the NCAA tournament, he will continue applying his level-headed approach to his confident game. It is only a few more steps before grabbing that NCAA tournament MVP.
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