The Great Wall of Irvine
“The wins are more important as far as our season. The fact that they have all been shutouts is a bonus,” senior Joel Bagby said. “As a defender that is our goal [to record shutouts].”
Much of the defensive success can be attributed to UCI’s goalkeeper Andrew Fontein. But before offenses can strike any sort of fear into the junior keeper, they must first contend with five defensive standouts: Corey Attaway, Joel Bagby, Gray Bailey, Everett Pitts and Jimmy Turner.
The key ingredient to any successful defense is cohesiveness. And this is what these players have been able to do – play as a unit.
“We all have good chemistry and a common goal to work for one another,” Pitts said.
Their togetherness on the field can also be credited to the fact that these five players have been in the program for at least three years. Attaway, Babgy and Bailey are the elder statesmen of the group, as this season marks the fifth year that they have been involved with the program. Both Pitts and Turner are going into their third year as Anteaters.
“We have known each other for a long time,” Attaway said. “We know each other’s habits. We know what we are good at and bad at. We cover for each other, pick each other up when one of us goes down.”
Bagby and Bailey typify the bond and sense of togetherness that the five defenders share. The friendship that these two players share dates all the way back to elementary school, as they were in the same first-grade class.
After developing a friendship in grade school, both Bagby and Bailey wound up pushing each other as rivals. After elementary school, both players attended different middle schools and high schools.
The rivalry reached its peak when Bagby attended Edison High School and Bailey took his soccer skills to Huntington Beach High. This rivalry between EHS and HBHS epitomizes high school rivalries in Orange County.
“Our high schools and club teams were rivals,” Bagby said. “I got to play against Gray a lot. It is great now he is one of my best friends and I love that I was able to come to UCI and play with him.”
Although the sum is greater than the parts, the parts that make the defense play as a cohesive unit are very distinct.
Bagby is a fifth-year economics major who plays the drums and listens to music in his spare time. Before soccer became a part of his life, Bagby played for a local band and produced a couple of albums. When the economics major needs a break from soccer, he will bang his drums, go out and search for new artists.
Everett Pitts is a third-year international studies major. When he is not on the pitch intimidating offenses, he likes to focus on his academics, hang out with his buddies or get some rest.
Corey Attaway is the big sports fanatic in the group. On the weekends, football takes over Corey’s life, with college football on Saturdays and the National Football League on Sundays. In high school, Attaway also played football and baseball but made soccer his main focus when he got accepted into UCI. When the fifth-year criminology major is not watching sports, he focuses on his academics as he wishes to attend law school after UC Irvine.
Gray Bailey, a business economics major, indulges in the simple things that the beach has to offer. When not playing soccer, Bailey will grab his surfboard and hit the waves.
Jimmy Turner, a third-year history major with an education minor, may have a coaching position under his belt when it is all said and done. Turner does a lot of coaching on the side and takes it very seriously. He is able to find pleasure in studying the little things of soccer that many people may not find interesting such as formations and the structure of the game.
But these defensive stars have not just made their presence felt on the defensive end of things.
This season the Anteaters have scored 30 goals and a big part of that has been due to the defenders. Bailey has scored four goals, Bagby has recorded two, Attaway has added three and Turner has scored one and recorded three assists.
Their presence in the offensive attack could not have come at a better time. Going into this season the Anteaters were looking to replace some potent offensive weapons: Irving Garcia, Carlos Aguilar and Kevin Santora.
“All those guys were part of our top five and we lost them all,” Attaway said. “We knew we were going to have to get some offense from somewhere else and we knew as a defense we had the potential to score.”
The defensive involvement in the offense has certainly taken some of the pressure off the offense but it has also brought a sense of unity to the team. “It goes both ways,” Pitts said. “[The defense] is scoring but [the offense] is definitely helping us defend too.”
The lone blemish for the defense came on Sept. 19 when they traveled to Sacramento to take on the Hornets of Sacramento State. UCI kept the Hornets’ offense under control throughout the game, as they limited them to two shots on goal. But those two shots were costly to the defense. The Hornets converted those two shots into goals and UCI went on to lose the game 2-0.
“We made some defensive mistakes that they capitalized on,” Bagby said.
The two goals scored by Sacramento State broke the five-game scoreless streak that the Anteaters opened the season with.
“As a defense it brought us back down to earth,” Attaway said. “A loss like that early in the season helped us out. It let us know that we aren’t invincible, we are human, we are going to make mistakes and allow some goals. But we got right back up.”
After the loss to Sacramento State, the Anteaters started another shutout streak that lasted three games and ended against Drake University two weekends ago. Although Drake ended the scoreless streak, the Anteaters recorded another shutout against UC Davis beating them 3-0.
For most championship teams, success starts on the defensive side. And if the Anteaters wish to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament, Attaway, Bagby, Bailey, Pitts and Turner will need to continue to play the physical and punishing defense that has defined Anteater soccer this season.