Pride of Nations
Despair and disgust was palpable as the British watched the Germans celebrate their 4-1 victory over England in the World Cup’s round of 16 on June 27. The expressions of English fanatics streamed across the world while they were filmed thousands of miles away from South Africa. Whether they were watching in pubs or in their own homes, British supporters were dissatisfied with their homeland’s performance. If Scott Juniper’s countrymen could see him now, the intense football enthusiasts would be proud of the man who grew up in Colchester, England.
Ten years after moving to America in an attempt to share his English football knowledge with a country often apathetic to soccer, Juniper transformed the UC Irvine women’s soccer team from worst to first in just four seasons.
In 2006, the Anteaters welcomed a new head coach to UCI. It wasn’t Juniper. A popular coach and well-known player, April Heinrichs took control hoping to motivate a dejected team with Juniper as her assistant. With low coaching expectations after the 2005 squad finished with a 5-12-2 record, the struggling squad regressed in 2006. Winning just three games and dreadfully finishing last in the conference (0-7 in the Big West), one season at the helm was all it took for Heinrichs to be replaced by Juniper in 2007.
Thrust into the hot seat, Juniper took the reins needing to restore the dwindling team’s sentiments and avoid the axe. Although Heinrichs received a short leash in her stint at UCI, Juniper didn’t feel the pressure.
“There was no expectation to win immediately,” Juniper said, “because we were so far behind [the previous year].”
The rookie head coach didn’t just secure his job in 2007, but he unveiled a competitive squad that registered a winning record at 11-7-2, 5-3-1 in the Big West. Although Juniper claims to have preached the same principles as the 2006 staff, the coach who received an education in sports psychology and the philosophy of sports and exercise fitness at the University of Bath and the University of Bristol in England, brought fresh ideologies to UCI.
“I’ve obviously got my different philosophies,” Juniper said. “But the team has evolved and has a defined culture now after four years … When you put together a team identity, with strong personalities, it breeds pride. That’s what creates a will to win; the determination to play for each other.”
Senior goalkeeper Danielle de Seriere has witnessed the facelift that Juniper has given the team.
“I think the program has had drastic changes over the past [few] years,” de Seriere said, “and a lot of that has to do with recruiting. Scott recruits talented players who are hard-working and who love to compete for this team.”
Throughout his tenure, Juniper has employed a successful management method, varying consistency and flexibility with his players. His consistency begins with unwavering principles. Striving to maintain exceptional character, Juniper wants his players, in the words of John Wooden, to “win with class and lose with grace.” Further foundations that he put into action at the outset were the expectations to “work hard, stick together and to love to compete.”
Juniper’s flexibility is demonstrated in various forms. He establishes rapport with players, while putting them in their place when necessary. In a team game that relies on cohesiveness amongst 11 athletes, the British coach gets the most from his athletes.
“We celebrate the individuality of each unique player and we encourage that growth, but continue to maintain our principles,” Juniper said.
Despite handing his players freedom, Juniper implements rigorous training exercises.
“We compete every day,” Juniper said. “It’s the grossest possible insult to your teammates or your opponent to bring anything less than your best game. At practice when we’re competing against each other, we have the responsibility of bringing our best game.”
Don’t expect Juniper to give preferential treatment to starters.
“They need to push their teammates as hard as they should be pushed,” Juniper said. “You’re not upsetting your roommate by knocking her over. It’s the reverse; it’s an insult to not do that. That’s where we’ve built that competitive environment at practice.”
“[Juniper’s] one of, if not the best, coaches I’ve ever had,” senior Tanya Taylor said. “And that’s saying a lot, because I have been blessed enough to have some great coaches in my life. He’s shown me different angles to look at the game and he always motivates me.”
The coach often paces the sidelines, imagining he’s actually playing.
“It wasn’t too long ago that I was a player,” Juniper said. “So in my mind I’m playing every tackle, every pass and every shot.”
Ten years removed from competitive soccer, Juniper admits that he “laced up the boots and played a game recently.” As a footballer in England, he was no slouch. At the University of Bath in 2000, Juniper scored 32 goals in 28 games, en route to a national championship.
Juniper knew that he had a knack for coaching at a young age.
“When I left my elementary school, I remember going back to visit the school’s principal and suggesting that I’d like to coach the team. I didn’t realize how dumb that must’ve sounded to him at age 11, but I was already invested in the game.”
At 22, he came to America for a chance to instruct at soccer camps along the East Coast. Eventually gravitating to California, Juniper found himself as UCR’s men’s soccer assistant coach from 2002-2005 before joining Heinrich’s staff at UCI.
At 15-1-2, the No. 15 ’Eaters currently boast an undefeated conference record.
“This year we have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament for the first time,” Juniper said. “This is a team that believes that they can beat anybody. It really doesn’t matter who we’re matched up against.”
While the coach peers outside his office window at the team’s practice facility, rain faintly drips from the sky.
“It’s kind of funny,” Juniper said. “When I first moved here, there were a few spots of rain and my phone started ringing off the hook. Players were asking what we were going to do. I didn’t really know what they were asking … we were going to practice like we usually did. But we’ve got tougher players now, they’re getting used to it.”
Reflecting back on his initiation to America, Juniper said, “There’s a huge passion for the sport in England. It’s very much engrained in the culture. I was passionate about sharing my experience with America. I wanted to improve the culture to be more like England.”
An assimilation process isn’t for the faint of heart. Juniper has taken a daunting task and created a winning tradition at UCI, combining English and American soccer to produce a proud, competitive Anteater culture.