Leaving Behind A Legacy
UC Irvine’s women’s soccer team closed out the 2006 season with a 4-0 loss to Cal State Fullerton. With the loss, the Anteaters finished the season 3-13-1 and 0-7 in conference. Incredibly, the ’Eaters found the net six times throughout the season while allowing a whopping 41 goals.
Soon thereafter, Scott Juniper took over the helm and embarked on a recruiting process that would take the women’s soccer program from obscurity in the Big West to the national spotlight.
Coach Juniper traveled to Upland, California and found a defender who surveys the field extremely well and finds spaces that no other players seem to find. Juniper recruited a dynamic offensive threat out of Buena Park, who exudes confidence. While in Pasadena, the women’s coach found a relentless midfielder whose commitment and drive go unmatched. In Cerritos, Juniper set his sights on a goalkeeper, a defensive anchor, a motivator – a player who does whatever it takes to win. Juniper then traveled south to San Diego and picked up a midfielder whose composure and intelligence would prove to be vital to any team. In Corona, Juniper needed to find another midfielder with a non-stop motor and a positive attitude that would rub off on future teammates. While in Rancho Santa Margarita, the coach found another piece to the puzzle, a forward that would hold people accountable and have an unparalleled work ethic.
These seven Anteaters were told that they would shoulder the load and turn the program around. And instead of running from the challenge, they embraced it.
“I chose [UC Irvine] because I saw it had a way to improve,” Sarah Busby said. “I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to be on a winning team and prove to everyone else that this team can be good.”
Fast-forward four years to 2010, Nikki Forrest, Tanya Taylor, Gilly Acedo, Danielle de Seriere, Raylean Robles, Alyssa Humphrey and Busby transformed a struggling program into a national title contender.
“It has been a long journey. We have seen a complete 180 in our program,” Humphrey said. “It has been hard, but it’s been worthwhile.”
When these seven stepped on to the campus of UC Irvine as freshmen, they were not only expected to improve on the 2006 season, but also create a winning tradition for future recruits.
“It wasn’t in the team culture to expect yourself to win the Big West,” Acedo said. “We saw it in a lot in the upperclassmen prior to us because they didn’t have the same mentality.”
The class of 2011 soon found out that there would not only be on the field struggles but also off the field, particularly with the established upperclassmen.
As freshmen, these seven players set standards of fitness and winning not only for themselves, but for the whole team. This change did not sit well with other teammates, as they formed a backlash toward the 2007 recruiting class.
This test of character continued into the sophomore season, as several of the upperclassmen refused to accept the change that the class of 2011 tried to instill in the women’s soccer program. In their second year, these players carried more responsibility, preventing the incoming freshmen from being negatively affected by other players. The adversity that these seven players faced allowed them to form close bonds with each other, as they became an example to the younger players, showing them what a close-knit class looks like, showing a willingness to do anything for each other.
“Our sophomore year we did struggle with the negativity on the team, personally that wasn’t my favorite season,” Acedo said. “It was hard, because we weren’t upperclassmen, but we weren’t [freshmen], so we struggled to find our voice as a class and keep up the positive mindset.”
The hard work that the class of 2011 put in has finally paid off. As seniors, these seven players are living out their dreams.
“It’s already a perfect season, I couldn’t have asked for anything greater,” Humphrey said. “We are 17-2-2, we never could have dreamed that that could happen and we were 8-0 in conference.”
The Anteaters boast an unblemished record in Big West play. They are one of five teams in conference history to go unbeaten, but are the only team in Big West history to go undefeated and untied.
“It’s crazy that we set a lot of goals for ourselves and our team and a lot of those goals are really happening,” de Seriere said. “Almost every single soccer goal that we set has been achieved.”
The Anteaters also set a goal to a win in overtime. Prior to the 2010 season, the ’Eaters considered overtime a death wish, as they only won two games in the extra period.
This season, the Anteaters played in five overtime games. Tying the first two, Irvine came up clutch in the final three overtime contests.
“That just shows how invested we are, and that we are going to play until the last second,” Humphrey said. “Against Pacific we scored the goal with 59 seconds left.”
One reason the Anteaters have been able to perform so well in clutch situations has been their ability to deal with the outside pressure. UCI cracked the top 25 in late September and they managed the spotlight extremely well, climbing the national polls to No. 11 in the nation.
“For the first time in our four years we’ve dealt with pressure in different ways,” Taylor said. “Now we’re not the underdog and we have the pressure of being nationally ranked.”
Even though the Lady Anteaters have garnered national attention, they still remain level-headed and a lot of that has to do with how these seniors have dealt with the pressure and the attention.
“We are not entitled to anything,” Acedo said. “Our rankings reflect our hard work and not what we think we deserve.”
On Senior Day, the last regular season home game for these seven Anteaters, things didn’t run as smoothly as expected. Before the game they did not have their warm-up CD, and they only warmed up for 20 minutes. Once the game started, the CSUF Titans scored in the first 10 minutes, leaving the Anteaters in shock. But the team’s resiliency that they displayed throughout the season prevailed, as they came back to beat the Titans, 3-2.
“We had lots of opportunities to make excuses in the first half and we did,” Taylor said. “The heart that we showed in the second half of that game showed our determination and will to win.”
Although the days of representing UCI for Forrest, Taylor, Acedo, de Seriere, Busby, Robles and Humphrey are coming to an end, the legacy that these players will leave is expected to last.
Next year, the Anteaters will travel to TCU, current No. 14 Santa Clara, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 1 Stanford and will host No. 2 Portland. These opponents are willing to play UC Irvine because of the four-year transformation that the program went through.
“We built [this program up] and now we must let it fly away,” Acedo said.
The magical season continues for these seven Anteaters as they received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Lady Anteaters will host Arizona State on Friday, Nov. 12.