UCI Freshmen Anchoring Strong Athletic Program

The class of 2011 has already made its impact on the UC Irvine athletics scene this fall. Freshmen are all over the place this season, already contributing in unexpected ways.
Last spring, we saw a huge presence from the 2010 freshman class on the baseball team. Jeff Cusick contributed well off the bench, and one of the biggest highlights of the historic season was when he hit a grand slam in the seventh inning to help the Anteaters rally from an 8-3 deficit and defeat the University of the Pacific. Sean Madigan hit a .333 average in 48 games and earned a Big West Honorable Mention. Eric Pettis told Coach Dave Serrano that he wanted the ball and was awarded a spot on the rotation. He was 4-0 on the season and even pitched 11.1 innings in two games in the postseason, striking out six batters and walking four. After a rough season, Christian Bergman valiantly took the mound against Oregon State in the elimination game in the College World Series. With almost no college postseason experience, Bergman pitched five innings and did not allow a single earned run.
The freshman class played a huge part in the ‘Eaters’ historic playoff success last year. This year, they have not left off in other respective sports, either.
Freshman Tanya Taylor was just recently named Co-Big West Player of the Week in women’s soccer, the team’s first honoree since 2005. She scored both UCI goals in a 2-1 victory over UC Santa Barbara.
Taylor has scored five goals this season, but she is hardly the only Anteater contributing to women’s soccer’s turnaround year. Redshirt freshman defender Caty Cope has tallied an impressive eight assists for a squad that rarely saw goals in their opponents’ nets all last season. Danielle de Seriere won the goalkeeper job early and has been impressive in the first 11 starts of her college career, allowing eight goals and recording 53 saves.
On the men’s squad, freshmen have solidified their spots on offense and defense, starting with goalkeeper Pat Barton. He has started nine games and helped the Anteaters win six games in that span. Freshman Gray Bailey is looking like a veteran player on the Anteater defense. He possesses a dominant defense style and an extremely dangerous throw-in as dangerous as a set-piece play for the Anteaters. Coach George Kuntz is very excited for his future. Forwards Amani Walker and Spencer Thompson have shown flashes of a dynamic one-two punch in the future. Thompson is second on the squad with four goals and has a knack for finding the ball and putting it in the net. Walker is a hustler; he fights for balls and especially wins on aerial attacks. With a bit more game experience, these freshmen could elevate Anteater play significantly.
The women’s golf team has added two special talents to an already-stacked squad. Hillary Packard finished seventh overall in her very first collegiate event, and Sarah Fox finished 23rd. These girls are very young and already establishing themselves as top tournament performers.
Last Thursday, a freshman by the name of Brandon Johnson brought some late-game heroics with a clutch goal with one second remaining in regulation to lift ninth-ranked men’s water polo over Loyola Marymount University.
The poster child for UCI freshmen is Kari Pestolesi, who deserves her own article and gets one (see page 33) in this issue. All I have to say, though, is that she is putting up Ryan Braun-like first-year numbers (Braun is the stud third baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers).
Freshmen are an interesting species. They either see immediate success, long-lasting success, short-lived success or no success at all. It is very difficult to predict what a freshman will bring to a conference like the Big West. Where conferences like the Pac-10 attract top-notch recruits, the Big West does not get as polished or highly-touted players.
However, the freshman play for UCI this fall has shown that even the freshmen in this conference can compete with the best. What UCI freshmen athletes lack in experience, they make up in tenacious play. They are eager to show their talents and make an impact right away. They play with no sense of fear. They energize their teams and up the competition.
The Anteater class of 2011 has excited us about the future, and even the present state of UCI athletics.