UCI 0, LBSU 1
Three-hundred and sixty-four days to the date, the UC Irvine Anteaters replicated one of their most devastating losses in recent memory on Nov. 7, eerily losing the Big West Tournament championship game 1-0 to Long Beach State for the second time in two years.
UCI’s fate now rests in the hands of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, who handed the ’Eaters an at-large bid last year. Irvine is now 14-4-2.
On Nov. 6, 2010, Irvine entered the championship game at 17-1-2. UCI fell 1-0 to the ’49ers after the black team sent a header into the net in the 53rd minute off of a corner kick.
“It was a strange game last year,” Juniper said of losing to Long Beach in the 2010 championship. “We were playing really tight. I think we played somewhat nervous. We were on a huge winning streak. […] Yeah, it hurt.”
Despite the team’s loss in the 2010 matchup, UCI advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in team history.
But on a damp Sunday afternoon, Irvine dropped their second straight Big West Tournament championship game to Long Beach State. They lost, once again, 1-0. And once again, it was a header that was lofted up on a corner kick.
Up until the 13th minute, the Anteaters had controlled possession of the ball. But one corner kick changed the game. It was floated up into the air before pinballing off of three straight ’49ers’ heads and into the net.
Following the goal, Long Beach became conservative, locking down their defense and rarely attacking. But as the action moved past halftime and into the second half, the ’49ers began taking advantage of the referees’ inactivity and fouled the Anteaters anytime they were remotely close to a scoring opportunity.
“It was foul after foul after foul. It was just relentless,” Juniper said. “Every time we got in a rhythm, it was a foul. That was the story of the game. I’m a little frustrated; it was a very physical game.”
Juniper has said in the past that he’s proud of his team’s ability to win games without pulling jerseys. Three yellow cards were handed out, two to Long Beach in the first 50 minutes and one to Irvine’s Zuri Walker in the 78th minute.
As the Anteaters pushed forward in the final 10 minutes of the game, senior defender Amanda Hardeman was football tackled by a Long Beach defender. Hardeman was five yards off of the ball at the time and dropped, immediately grimacing. No card was given.
While Juniper was shouting instructions to his players, Long Beach Coach Mauricio Ingrassia was shouting, “Hey!” at the referees repeatedly, even when there was no resemblance of a foul.
“Every time there’s contact they’re (Long Beach coaches) screaming at the refs. It’s baffling to me that they’re able to do that, really.”
“The team was strong through the 90 minutes, we gave ourselves a couple of chances to win the game and to be fair to Long Beach State, they converted their chance and we didn’t finish ours.”
Despite the loss, Juniper had no hesitance at his team’s chances of being excluded from the NCAA Tournament, much like UCI’s men’s soccer team was in 2010. The selections were scheduled to be announced on Nov. 7, after press time.
“Hopefully it has the same effect on us as it did last year. We had a pretty magical game against Arizona State (in the first round of the NCAA Tournament) five days after losing a game like that. So hopefully that repeats itself as well.
“We’re very disappointed about that game. What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to take that energy and emotion and channel it into the next game.”
UCI 1, UCD 0
A win is a win. Juniper has high expectations for his team, having advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2010. But he wasn’t particularly impressed by his team’s “sloppy” 1-0 win over UC Davis in the Big West Tournament semifinals on Nov. 3.
“We didn’t play well tonight, I don’t think,” Juniper said after the game. “It wasn’t a pretty game. [… We probably could have scored] two or three more goals tonight.”
“It’s one game at a time. We’re good enough to beat any team in the country, there’s no doubt about that. On our day, we can beat anyone, but if we don’t play well, we can lose to anyone. So we’re just one game at a time.”
Coming off a 5-0 win against UC Riverside on Oct. 30, the Anteaters were held scoreless in the first half by the Aggies. The two teams previously tied 2-2 on Sept. 30 and on Thursday night they entered the second half tied, 0-0.
In a defensive battle, the Anteaters’ key defender, senior Judy Christopher, stood out. She slide tackled left and right and helped the Anteaters secure their sixth shutout in seven games. The team is 7-0 in that stretch and has outscored its opponents 16-1 since Oct. 7. Christopher left the field after 90 minutes of regulation covered in grass stains and with a yellow card — which she received in the 67th minute for an aggressive tackle.
“Judy, she’s so passionate. She’s gotten a lot better this year at having positive emotions and knowing when to ease off the emotional side of the game a little bit. She got a little riled tonight and that’s okay. She’s been immense.”
In the 60th minute, junior Dana Sanderlin nearly put Irvine on the board when she crossed a pass to junior captain Devon Delarosa, but Delarosa’s right-footed attempt sailed just over the crossbar.
Four minutes later, senior defender Amanda Hardeman sprinted through the field to receive a pass from CoCo Goodson. Hardeman maneuvered from the right sideline to within 10 yards of the goal, firing a shot just past the fingertips of the Aggies goalie’s right hand and into the net.
One goal was all it took for the Anteaters and Hardeman couldn’t have been prouder to have lifted the team to victory. It was the Dana Hills High School alumna’s second career goal at UCI and her second game-winning goal of the season.
“I was just hoping [CoCo] would play me the ball, because I was wide open,” Hardeman said of the goal, “and sure enough she did and I had to finish it. I think, yeah, it’s one of my biggest goals [I’ve ever scored].”