Transitioning Into a New Era, Reloading or Rebuilding?

In collegiate sports, reaching the top of the championship mountain is tough – but remaining there is even tougher.

Dynasties are a rare breed. In the collegiate game, it is difficult to claim consecutive championships because of the amount of turnovers that happens year after year. Every season, coaches must say goodbye to established seniors and welcome raw freshmen. In football, an athlete must spend three years in college before opting for the National Football League. In basketball, players can bolt to the National Basketball Association after their freshman season and in baseball, players can be drafted out of high school.

Schools like Butler University, the runner-up in the last two basketball championship games, and the University of Florida, champions of the 2006 and 2007 basketball seasons, are exceptions to the rule. One of the major reasons why these two schools were able to repeat their success was because their core remained intact. The Bulldogs made consecutive trips to the championship game because there was little change in their roster as Gordon Hayward was the only piece of the puzzle that left for the NBA. The Gators won back-to-back titles because the starting five returned after the first championship run.

Once Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green all entered the NBA draft, the Gators fell off the map, as they did not qualify for the NCAA tournament after winning consecutive titles.

Despite the fact that the 2010 UC Irvine women’s soccer team did not win the championship, repeating their success is the colossal challenge that awaits Head Coach Scott Juniper.

There is no doubt that the 2010 UC Irvine women’s soccer season may be the best in history. Names like Tanya Taylor, the 2010 Big West offensive player of the year, and Danielle de Seriere, the 2010 Big West goalie of the year, will forever be immortalized in the UC Irvine record books.

The 2010 squad captivated the hearts of the soccer world, as even Julie Foudy picked the Lady Anteaters as the dark horse in the NCAA Tournament. Juniper and company did not disappoint, proving they were meant for the spotlight as they reached the Sweet Sixteen in their first ever NCAA tournament appearance.

If Coach Juniper thought reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history was difficult – the challenge only gets tougher.

The pressure is now on the Lady Anteaters to prove that the 2010 season was no fluke and that this success can be expected year in and year out.

Proving this is not going to be an easy task. After going undefeated and untied in conference play, there is no doubt that every Big West team will give the Lady Anteaters their A-game. Not only will UCI contend with conference opponents, but they will also face some of the top teams in the nation. Next year, the Lady Anteaters will play Portland, Santa Clara and Stanford, three top-notch teams that all reached the NCAA tournament.

However, the challenge does not lie in facing teams from the Big West that will be looking to dethrone the Lady Anteaters. Nor does it lie in facing some of the nation’s top teams. The real challenge lies in repeating the 2010 success and going beyond the Sweet Sixteen with a new nucleus.

The poise provided by seven seniors played a major role in why the Lady Anteaters reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament. UCI will need to replace the on-field talents of Taylor, de Seriere, Nikki Forrest and Alyssa Humphrey and the off-field leadership of Raylean Robles, Sarah Busby and Gilly Acedo.

Although a majority of the pieces remain in place, there is no doubt that these seven seniors were the spark that started the fire.

The pressure now falls on Devon Delarosa, Coco Goodson and Judy Christopher to lead the Lady Anteaters back to the postseason tournament.

Although Taylor and de Seriere leave giant voids, the answers may be found within the current roster. Kala Gabler has been de Seriere’s understudy for the past three years, and she will be the one anchoring the defense. Lexi Kopf and Alexis Rafael will be given the opportunity to fill Taylor’s shoes.

This is not to say that the newcomers will not have an impact on next year’s team. The 2011 team will include eight new freshmen and one transfer, Natalia Ledezma. The UCLA transfer has already made an impact on the team. In an exhibition game against San Diego State, Ledezma scored two first-half goals and Juniper is also looking at her to step into the stop vacated by Taylor. If Ledezma proves to be anything like Goodson, who transferred from the University of Texas this past season, then the Lady Anteaters may be in for another magical run.

Being a consistent contender is all about reloading with players who can step in and provide an immediate impact and not about rebuilding with players who need time to develop and mature. Only time will tell if the Lady Anteaters are reloading or rebuilding.