Reminiscing: Appreciate UCI Athletics while You Still Can

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone complain about UC Irvine Athletics and how it’s difficult to become immersed because the teams here are not that good, then I would be graduating debt-free. But the reality is that UCI teams are good, you just have to invest a little time to see the payoff.

Unlike many apathetic students at UCI, my investment and affinity started before I even set foot on campus.  As my high school days came to a close, I remember UCI making headlines as the men’s volleyball team claimed its first national title in program history. A month later, my interest in UCI Athletics was sparked again as I cheered and hoped that the baseball team could somehow, some way claim the College World Series Championship.

Over the past four years my passion for UCI sports has only grown. I rode the highs of experiencing a second national title by John Speraw and company, I sulked in the agonies of defeat after the women’s soccer team lost a heartbreaker to the Washington Huskies, and I let my frustration get the best of me after watching some teams fail to realize their potential.

But through thick and thin, I feel that I have seized almost every opportunity that Athletics has presented me with, and because of this I feel that I am ready to move on with little regrets. But, at the same time, it is bittersweet. Despite experiencing the pinnacle of success with the men’s volleyball team and watching baseball and women’s soccer captivate the nation when they made their respective postseason runs, I do feel that better days await the Anteaters.

Basketball will rise again. In his first season at the helm, Head Coach Russell Turner was welcomed with loads of adversity. Throughout the season, Turner attempted to win without any big men – Eric Wise and Adam Folker were stung by the injury bug, while potential difference-maker Maxime Chupin never got to see the court due to NCAA violations. And next year does not get any easier for the former Golden State assistant coach as he will need to win without Wise, who is transferring to the University of Southern California, and Chupin, who is moving back to France because the NCAA ruled him ineligible.

Despite this negativity, there is plenty of room for future optimism. The Anteaters finished the season six games under .500 at 13-19, but with a makeshift roster Turner was able to guide the Anteaters to wins over Long Beach State and Cal Poly, the two top teams in the Big West. Also, let’s not forget that the ’Eaters were two points away from upsetting UCLA.

Turner has been around winning teams and has the pedigree of a great coach, so it would be surprising if he failed to win a Big West title and earn a berth to the Big Dance in the near future.

Women’s basketball is not too far behind Turner’s squad. Under the guidance and leadership of Molly Goodenbour, women’s basketball seems to be headed in the right direction. The Lady Anteaters finished the season at .500, but they did win 11 of 12 games in December and January. With a roster compiled of mostly freshmen and sophomores,  Goodenbour’s team can expect more improvement, but this all depends on the uncertainty surrounding two of UCI’s top three scorers, Mikah Maly-Karros and Tayler Champion, whose statuses for next year’s season are still up in the air.

In nine seasons, Coach Speraw has amassed a 154-89 overall record, guided the men’s volleyball team to two national championships and has transformed Irvine into the mecca of collegiate volleyball. As long as Speraw stays in Irvine, the volleyball team will always be a contender for the national title.

After four seasons, Head Coach Scott Juniper showed that the women’s soccer team can compete with the best teams in the nation. Juniper led a lesser-known Lady Anteater squad to the Sweet 16 before losing to the Huskies in double overtime.

Although Juniper loses a nucleus, he does return key pieces in CoCo Goodson, Judy Christopher and Devon Delarosa. Next year, Juniper’s Anteaters will prove if they belong among the elite, as they will face seven teams for this past season’s NCAA Tournament.

Head Coach Dan Klatt and the women’s water polo team will win a championship one day. His players absolutely love him and have tremendous respect him. With the help of the Big West Player of the Year, Jessy Cardey and Big West Freshman of the Year, Danielle Warde, Klatt led his team to the NCAA Tournament. With a little more seasoning under the belts of Cardey, a sophomore, and Warde, who has three years of eligibility left, the sky is the limit for the women’s water polo team.

And then there is Charles Jock. In three years, the distance runner has never ceased to amaze. Next year will be his final season sporting the Irvine gold and blue, which may make for the climax of his record-breaking career at UCI.

UCI can take pride in baseball, a team that has to be itching for another historic postseason run. Paula Weishoff and the rest of the women’s volleyball team will be an improving team next year. The men’s tennis team has perfected the art of winning in the Big West – their next challenge is the NCAA Tournament.

All of this is bittersweet because I won’t get to experience this future success as a student. Instead I will be experiencing it from afar as an alumnus.

As the cliché goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and I can truly say I am beginning to realize this as my time at UCI is nearly complete.

And as the final seconds of my undergraduate career tick down, all I can do is reminisce, but for those who still have one to three years left – take advantage of what you have before it is all gone.