The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine on Ring Road that led me to ask, “Hey, are you going to head to the soccer game on Saturday? It’s the conference championship.”
He replied with a shrug and a lackluster, “No. This is my fourth year living off-campus and I have yet to get into Irvine sports. So why start now, you know?”
Without any hesitation, I started rattling off reason after reason as to why he should get into Irvine sports right now. At no other point in my four years at Irvine has there been so much hype surrounding UCI sports.
After my little song and dance, my buddy responded with a simple and somewhat apathetic “Cool.”
After the exchange, I realized how genuinely excited I am about the sports at Irvine this year, and I decided it was only appropriate for you guys to get the same spiel I gave to my friend on Ring Road.
Let’s just start at the top: soccer has officially made its stamp on the Big West as a powerhouse and is awaiting its bid for the NCAA tournament. They have stepped up to every challenge put in front of them and are rolling into the NCAAs with some heavy momentum. George Kuntz’s leadership, combined with a championship-ready squad, has been very exciting to watch.
I was up at the Santa Barbara game when we pulled off the upset and tipped the balance of the Western Region soccer polls that put us at number one after that game. It was one of my better Irvine athletics moments, when I could talk a little smack to Gaucho alumni and not be stretching the truth.
Soccer has really impressed me this fall and continues to impress the collegiate soccer world. Enough said.
However, there has been a tendency in recent years for fall sports to fall short of success and leave it up to winter and spring to pick up the slack. But this year has been different. Soccer has obviously outperformed expectations, but sports like women’s volleyball and women’s golf have really stepped it up.
After a slow start, the women’s volleyball team has played their way into Big West Conference post-season talk. The team has rallied late in the season, going on a five-game winning streak that now has them looking to finish the season on a much-needed winning note.
Another fall standout program has been women’s golf. Why? Two words: Jane Chin. She is ranked number one nationally according to Golfstat Cup National Rankings, with three straight tournament wins. She has been a beast this season, and there are very high expectations for her and her team as they head into the last part of their season this spring.
But let’s get to the good stuff.
The excitement about winter and spring sports is increasing by the day and I know why: We are going to be ridiculously good in a lot of different sports.
Men’s volleyball has the best chance at winning a national championship out of any program on campus, and I truly feel in my heart that they can. They are experienced, dedicated and are lead by a gold medal-winning coach, John Speraw.
They have the potential to not only take the extremely competitive Mountain Pacific Sport Federation play, but grab another national championship.
The depth of the team has increased since last year and as senior outside hitter Taylor Wilson explained to me, “We have three different lines that could be a top-five team in the nation.”
Every time I talk to a player, they exude excitement and confidence in how good they are going to be, but it is not cockiness in any sense. The team made a trip to South America in late August and they will be the first to tell you how they got stomped down there. But like champions, they learned from it and came back a stronger, more equipped team.
And did I mention, they are lead by John Speraw! The dude just won a gold medal in Bejiing. Winning an NCAA title is nothing.
But with volleyball not starting until January, the hype has been overshadowed by basketball so far, and rightfully so. They look like such ballers this season. And even thought they lost to USC on Saturday, they still proved they could compete.
A big reason for high expectations is the two transfers making the most noise. Darren Moore and Zack Atkinson are straight money. Moore posted 16 points against USC and was penetrating all game long. Atkinson is dominant down-low. On Saturday he dropped 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds, which is not bad against the 18th-ranked Trojans.
All right, that is enough of the land sports. Let’s hit the pool. The men’s swim team will be dope this year. Randall Tom has returned after red-shirting his fourth year and will complete a very well-rounded relay group. With a solid set of seniors leading the squad, swimming is something to really look forward to in the coming months.
But what I will be patiently waiting for in the coming months is the start of the spring sports.
Baseball, baby. I love me some Anteater baseball.
Don’t believe the hype, believe the Hypothesis.
Filed Under: Sports