Young Talent Bound to Emerge in ’09
It was a tough act to follow after the ’06-’07 Anteaters made UC Irvine the Division 1-AA Athletics Program of the Year. The Anteaters did not have the same success as last year’s program, but they set the foundation for similar success next year.
Here is a capsule of the teams expected to perform well next year and those on the Hot Seat.
Record: 11-7-2 (5-2-1)
Key Losses: D Mackenzie Beahm, M Frankee Kelly, F Kim Horn
Overview: First-year head coach Scott Juniper turned this squad around from the slums and has made it a legitimate contender in the Big West next season. The Anteaters lose their leader and a defensive stronghold in Beahm, and goal scorers in Kelly and Horn.
However, the Anteaters return perhaps the most impressive freshmen class in program history, headlined by Caty Cope and Keeper Danielle de Seriere. Cope had a single season record 10 assists, and de Seriere was tied for sixth all-time at UCI with nine shutouts, which is also the single season record. Tanya Taylor and Nikki Forrest are two other freshmen that made an immediate impact last year with 11 and six points, respectively.
Sophomore Kate Berrini emerged as arguably the most valuable player on the team. Her ability to create shots for herself and her teammates is going to attract multiple defenders to her next season.
This is a very exciting young squad that now has experience under Juniper’s system and will look to improve on its third-place finish in the Big West and conference tournament semifinal finish last season.
Prediction: The conference knows how good this squad will be next season and will be gunning to take them down. The Anteaters will finish second in the Big West, and take the Conference tournament.
Record: 21-11 (11-5)
Key Loss: Kristen Kelly
Overview: The ’06-’07 Anteaters tied for second all-time with 21 wins, and recorded their highest finish in the Big West (third) since 2003, when they finished second.
Five players were named the All-Big West team, a program high. Kari Pestolesi disproved any doubts as she had the best freshman campaign in UCI history. She was named Big West Freshman of the Year and collected numerous other freshman accolades. She was joined by junior outside hitter Lauren Kellerman on the Big West first team, as well.
Sophomore setter Taryn Robertson and junior Libero Devon Sutherland were named Honorable Mention. These two have already established their names in the UCI record books in their young careers. Robertson is third in assists and Sutherland is the all-time digs leader with 1,302.
This team is going to be a force. On paper, they have all the names to win the Big West. Some argue that last season was an under-achieving year after the Anteaters realized their potential. This should provide the Anteaters with the hunger to be a force for next season.
Prediction: Though the loss of Kelly will be felt, this squad is too good to not succeed. The Anteaters will have the edge to win the Big West and possibly make a run deep into the NCAA tournament.
Record: 16-15 (13-12)
Key Loss: MB Aaron Harrell
Overview: Last season was definitely a rebuilding year for John Speraw’s Anteaters. The ’06-’07 Anteaters put UCI on the map with a national championship and made put the program within the elite.
The Anteaters were young, inexperienced and inconsistent this past season, yet they still mustered up a winning record. Junior Jon Steller stepped up after Taylor Wilson’s injury early in the season, and found himself as a second team All-American at the end.
However like the women’s soccer team, this team is blessed with young talent. freshmen Corey Yoder, Kevin Carroll and Kevin Wynne fit into Speraw’s system well and will be even more dangerous next season.
In addition, the platooning of setters Anthony Spittle and Ryan Ammerman has provided another dynamic to counteract and disrupt opponents’ strategies.
Junior Brent Asuka will return at Libero, and he is arguably one of the best in the nation. He was the MPSF Newcomer of the Year in his freshman season, and has incredible experience in the college gain.
Wilson will return for his senior campaign. He ended his disappointing junior campaign by regaining his ’06-’07-championship-esque form in the MPSF tournament.
Prediction: The team is oozing with talent and John Speraw is a genius. Enough said. National Championship.
Teams on the Hot Seat
Record: 6-9-5 (1-7-3)
Key Loss: D Brandon Foster
Overview: In ’06-’07, the Anteaters were robbed a berth to the NCAA tournament after an impressive season.
Last season, the Anteaters were expected to return as a top-notch squad that was supposed to rank high Big West. Unfortunately, the team fell apart after an impressive beginning of the season and suffered defeat after defeat towards the end of the season.
Coach Kuntz brought in an impressive recruiting class last season, and with the return of junior Matt Murphy, the Anteater should have contended.
However, that is the past and those recruits have a year’s experience under their belt, and should diffuse some pressure off the former Big West Midfielder of the Year.
Sophomore Pat Barton returns to the back of the net and junior Shane Westbrook should provide another dangerous leg alongside Murphy in the midfield.
Hopefully, freshman Spencer Thompson will recover from injury and join his partner, freshman Amani Walker. The two should provide the much-needed attack up front.
Freshman Gray Bailey encouraged all Anteaters with his stellar play on the defense and looks to be the premiere defender in the lineup.
Coach Kuntz has put together another solid recruiting class, and has the talent to turn the team around next season.
The ‘Eaters have had a good spring, which includes a win over UCLA. However, the scores only matter in the fall, and these Anteaters need to be ready.
Prediction: The stuff is there, but can the team be motivated and cohesive? I think so. Top three finish in the rising Big West.
Key Losses: C Darren Fells, PF Patrick Sanders, and G Marcus McIntosh
Overview: Last season the Anteaters played the toughest schedule of any team in the Big West. They seemed to be unstoppable at home as they only lost just one game at the Bren Events Center, but could not win on the road. The rollercoaster of a season, ended with a magnificent run in the Big West Tournament.
The fifth-seeded Anteaters won three consecutive games to reach the final for the first time in program history. They would eventually lose to Cal State Fullerton 81-66.
The Anteaters lose Fells big play at center, Sanders game-breaking ability and McIntosh’s athleticism. These three were the heart and soul of the team, and will have a lot to search for next season.
On the bright side, the Anteaters return with Kevin Bland and Michael Hunter. Bland played impressively in the Big West tourney, and Hunter found his stroke towards the end of the season: 12.3 points in the last 10 games.
Walk-on freshman Patrick Rembert emerged as the steady and reliable point guard in the tournament. Junior Brett Lauer will return as the prolific three-point shooter. With more playing time, he should finish atop the Big West in three pointers next season.
6-foot-9 inch forward Zack Atkinson will look to fill the hole in the paint for the Anteaters. He was a Golden Valley Conference All-Defensive Team. Coach Douglass calls him “the most gifted athlete we have recruited to UCI.”
Prediction: There are a lot of questions with this team, but hopefully the most popular program on campus should have an easier schedule that can help the Anteaters establish their style and strengths. Third place finish in the conference.