Experienced Squad Set for Season
Four years in the making, the Scott Juniper era at UC Irvine is finally ripe to bear fruit.
The Lady Anteaters return every single contributor except senior Kate Berrini, while boasting an impressive group of newcomers.
“We’re excited to have two transfers, Coco Goodson from the University of Texas and Lani Amack from Washington State,” Head Coach Scott Juniper said. “Before any of the freshmen had even arrived, we felt we had found a solution to fill Berrini’s boots. And of course, every returner has another year of experience. So we’re excited, the team’s training hard and looking sharp.”
Goodson, originally from Ramona, Calif., exploded on to the Big 12 scene by tying for the team lead in scoring, with six goals and four assists for the Longhorns in 2008. In 2009, Goodson started 13 more games while adding two goals and two assists. Meanwhile, Amack played in 14 matches, starting four of them as a freshman for the Cougars before redshirting last season. Both Goodson and Amack have NCAA Tournament experience and both will be competing for starting spots for the Anteaters this season.
“I wanted to come back to California where my parents could watch me play in college,” Goodson, who Juniper recruited out of high school, said. “I’m glad to be back and hope to make the ’Eater Nation proud.”
Fellow Southern Californian native Amack was drawn to UCI not just for the soccer program, but also because of the strength of its biology program. She will split time between defense and midfield.
“Lani recognized the academic quality here at UCI, as she’s majoring in biological sciences, and wanted to come here for academic reasons as well as athletic reasons,” Juniper said.
The Anteaters will be anchored by senior captains Tanya Taylor, Alyssa Humphrey, and Danielle de Seriere. Taylor tied for the team lead in scoring last season with 16 points in 2009, earning All-Big West Second Team honors for the second straight year. Humphrey started all 21 games for UCI last season, while de Seriere earned All-Big West Honorable Mention accolades for her strong play in net.
“The three captains will be our leaders throughout the year,” Juniper said. “All three of them are very unique, and I think the blend of them is going to work very well. They were some of the first players I recruited as head coach here, and it’s very difficult to believe they’re already going into their senior year.”
In addition to key defender Nikki Forrest and reserves Sarah Busby and Raylean Robles, Juniper credited the senior class with turning around the program.
“They’ve been incredibly important to the program,” Juniper said. “They brought in a breath of fresh air, and they came at a time when the program needed a lot of talent at different positions. They all played a lot of games as freshmen, and so picked up a lot of experience in that first year. They’ve become the backbone of the team.”
The future only looks brighter for UC Irvine after this season however. The sophomore and junior classes are laden with big-time talent. Junior defender Judy Christopher was named All-Big West First Team for her part in leading the stellar UCI defense to nine shutouts in 2009. A pair of outside midfielder sophomores, Dana Sanderlin and Devon Delarosa, established themselves as prolific scorers as freshmen in 2009, scoring 16 and 13 points, respectively.
“They started a lot of games as freshmen, and the maturity and experience of playing for a year puts them in a good position going into this year,” Juniper said. “Devon is likely to see some time in the center of the field, as she’s got great play-making ability as well. They’ve just got to make sure they remember what made them successful as freshmen, the excitement and freedom.”
They are joined by Mar Rodriguez, who is just returning from playing for Team Mexico’s under-20 women’s national team. Rodriguez was part of a team that won their group and got to the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
“She’s going to be a real big part of this team,” Juniper said. “She scored four game-winning goals for us last year. For her size, she’s incredibly strong on the tackle, and she can win balls in the air and on the ground. That kind of spirit is infectious and the rest of the team really feeds off of that.”
The new freshmen class will be no slouch either, as men’s soccer star Amani Walker’s sister Zuri Walker headlines the group.
“[Zuri] played for the under-15 women’s national team,” Juniper said. “She’s a very strong player, physically dominant anywhere up the middle.”
Other freshmen to watch out for are Walker’s teammate Jordan Bruce and Irvine local Zoya Farzaneh, who went to Irvine High and played for the Irvine Strikers.
UCI opens up the season against the University of Idaho at Anteater Stadium on Aug 20. The schedule also features big match-ups against Cal, Oregon State, Gonzaga, and the University of San Diego.
“We compete with [Cal] for recruits on a regular basis, and having a chance to go up there in the heart of Northern California and prove we’re ready to take on teams like that is exciting,” Juniper said.
After sneaking into the Big West conference tournament last year, and exiting in the semi-finals twice in the last three years, the Lady Anteaters seem posed to finally break out.
“Really, every single conference game is very, very important,” Juniper said. “It’s a very deep conference, but it’s time to go one step further. Building off last year, we have every chance to do that.”