On Monday Nov. 8, the Lady Anteaters went into jubilation, as they found out they are going to participate in their first ever NCAA Tournament. The Anteaters will host Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Nov. 12.
“It’s a little bit of relief, you never know what’s going to happen,” Juniper said. “You can never predict it when you put it in the hands of the selection committee and don’t secure that automatic bid.”
It would have been inconceivable to think that the Lady Anteaters would have been left out of the tournament after compiling an impressive resume: 17-2-2 overall record, 8-0 in conference play and a top 25 ranking. Their reward: not just a trip to the post-season but home field advantage to boot.
UC Irvine 2 Pacific 1
Coming into last Thursday night’s Big West semifinals, UC Irvine faced a tremendous amount of pressure. The last time UCI won a game in the Big West Tournament was in 1997. If the pressure of trying to end 13 years of frustration did not get to the ’Eaters, then the need to prove that there was no fluke in their No. 1 seed and unblemished record certainly raised the stakes for the team.
The Lady Anteaters overcame 13 years of defeat as they edged the Pacific Tigers, 2-1.
“The last couple of years we have treated it as a special game, but it was different this year,” Head Coach Scott Juniper said. “We had a different level of confidence and we treated it like any other game.”
The Tigers opened up the match with a perfect chance to apply pressure on the Anteaters. A Pacific corner kick in the fourth minute scared the Irvine faithful, but a swarming UCI defense and Danielle de Seriere’s presence shut the door on Pacific’s offense.
The addition of junior transfer CoCo Goodson provided a much needed spark throughout the season, and her impact was none bigger than in Thursday’s semifinal game against the Tigers.
In the 17th minute, sophomore defender Sarah Devine fired a shot that hit the crossbar. The ball rebounded in the direction of Goodson and she put the ball past four pacified Pacific defenders for UCI’s first goal.
The Tigers found their first goal when a Pacific forward fired a ball into the 18-yard box and a UCI defender headed the ball backwards. The ball slowly sailed over the head of de Seriere in the 28th minute.
“We had a moment of letdown but then we picked each other up,” Goodson said. “We told ourselves that it wasn’t a big deal — we are just tied, and have been tied before and won.”
Good teams find ways to win games and that’s what the Anteaters did in the second half. In the 54th minute, senior defender Nikki Forrest took a corner kick and fired it into the penalty box. The ball hit a Pacific player and landed inside the net for the Anteaters’ second goal of the match.
The ’Eaters kept their foot on the throttle, as they continued to look for a third goal as time expired. Runs by Tanya Taylor and Lexi Kopf put the Tigers on their heels for the entire 90 minutes of the match. Late in the game, UCI had two opportunities to find a third goal. In the 86th minute, senior Alyssa Humphrey received a one-touch pass and shot just outside the right post. In the 89th minute, Taylor stole the ball from Pacific’s keeper, but her inability to find a handle on the ball prevented her from scoring.
UC Irvine 0 LBSU 1
After the Lady Anteaters stomped on every Big West team during the regular season, after they willed themselves to find a victory against Pacific in the semifinals, the women’s soccer team experienced something they hadn’t experienced since Aug. 29.
The ’Eaters needed to win one more game in order to cap off a magical season and earn the right to be called Big West Tournament Champs. Instead, it was a bitter scene at Anteater Stadium as the Long Beach State 49ers celebrated a 1-0 victory in the conference championship.
“All credit to Long Beach State, they had a game plan and they executed very well,” Juniper said. “They shut us down in a few areas and they took their chances.”
LBSU’s Bo Rael headed in the game’s lone goal in the 53rd minute. All season long, the Anteaters perfected the art of finding goals in late-game situations, but against LBSU, this was not the case.
With the loss to the 49ers, UCI squandered its automatic bid to enter the NCAA Tournament.