UC Irvine’s P.K. Dismay

David Conley/New University

USD 2 (5), UCI 2 (3)

A game-winner, a walk-off, a clincher, there’s no more sudden way to end a player’s season, dream or career. Whatever you want to call it, UC Irvine’s women’s soccer team has become all too familiar with it in the past two seasons. One second, they’re in the tournament and the next second senior starters Judy Christopher, CoCo Goodson, Lexi Kopf, Sarah Devine and Amanda Hardeman are distraught, being consoled by Coach Scott Juniper, and taking their shin guards off for the final time at Anteater Stadium.

Last season, the Washington Huskies rejoiced their Elite 8 berth, after sneaking a goal past UCI keeper Danielle de Seriere in the 103rd minute. The Anteaters were stunned after a historical run. On Friday evening, the Toreros knocked the clincher past freshman goalie Jennifer Randazzo in a marathon of a game.

“I thought [University of San Diego] played a great game,” Juniper said. “They’re a great team […], and we always have a good game against USD. I wish them luck.”

Having rallied back from last season’s deficit against ASU in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, UCI was composed, even when the scoreboard read 2-1 in USD’s favor with less than two minutes remaining on Friday night.

UCI gave up an early goal to San Diego in the fifth minute, putting the Toreros up, 1-0. But in the 23rd minute, sophomore Zoya Farzaneh knotted the game at one when she found a loose ball in the middle of the box. Just prior to halftime, USD scored once more in the 41st minute.

A physical battle ensued in the second half as UCI peppered USD’s goalie with shots. Irvine finished with 18 shots, 10 on goal and every Anteater starter finished with at least one attempt.

With time running out, junior Dana Sanderlin crossed a pass to Hardeman — the hero from last week’s UC Davis thriller. Hardeman sent a line-drive into the back of the net and the timid stadium erupted with 1:30 remaining in regulation.

In a golden goal format, UCI and USD played two scoreless overtime periods and sent the contest to the Anteaters’ first penalty kick sudden-death finale in the program’s NCAA Tournament history.

“It never goes to [penalty kicks] until the end of the season,” Juniper said of the infrequency of his players taking game-winning penalty kicks in practice.

“We’ve done two or three sessions, but the thing is with ‘P.K.’s’ is you can never recreate the kind of pressure that you’re going to face in a game, so it’s very difficult.”

Randazzo recorded eight shutouts in her first collegiate campaign. On Friday evening, the freshman was called upon to defend the Anteaters’ box, but the Toreros made all five of their attempts.

After USD netted their first shot, Christopher stepped up for UCI. Her firm-footed attempt was upstaged by an impressive save from USD’s Courtney Parsons. With the Toreros up two goals on the ’Eaters, Sanderlin narrowed the margin to 2-1.

“Come on Jen, right here!” Juniper shouted to encourage Randazzo prior to her third attempt.

USD’s Lexi Deol nailed her shot off of the left post. The ball then banked off of Randazzo’s back as she lay outstretched on the turf and dribbled just inside the right post, into the goal.

Goodson then cannoned the ball into the top of the net, barely scraping under the crossbar and in, to bring USD’s lead to 3-2.

Sophomore Zuri Walker then caught Parsons off-guard with an unconventional attempt, sending a floater into the left side of the goal. With the score at 4-3, the stadium fell deathly silent. San Diego’s Stephanie Ochs, who had assisted both goals in regulation, instantly expelled the Anteaters from the tournament.

Christopher, the only Anteater to miss her P.K. attempt, sunk to her knees alongside teammates. A hard-nosed athlete, Christopher played in 82 career games as an Anteater, second-most in team history. Known for her vicious slide tackles and grass-stained jerseys, she finished her collegiate career in tears at midfield.

“I thought [Christopher] was the best player on the field for 90 minutes plus overtime tonight,” Juniper said, proud of a player he refers to as “first class.” “I think that was the best midfield performance I’ve seen since I’ve been a coach here. When you’ve got a captain like that and you ask ‘Who wants to take a P.K.?’ she’s the first one to step up. That defines who she is and what she’s done here for four years, she’s incredible.

“Judy hit her [shot] absolutely perfectly. That was where she wanted to put it, it was just inside the post and you’ve got to say that the USD goalkeeper made a spectacular save on it.”

Despite allowing five straight penalty kick goals, Randazzo still has Juniper’s vote of confidence for her remaining three years in Irvine.

“[Randazzo] is a tough kid,” he said. “She’s remarkably composed for her age, so yeah, she’ll bounce back.”

Irvine ends the season at 14-4-3, their third best winning percentage in school history, behind 2010 (19-3-2) and 1998 (14-3-3). The overtime loss means that five senior starters must depart. After all of the weekly Monday fitness tests, grueling practices and playoff games together, Hardeman, Goodson, Devine, Christopher and Kopf have graduated from the program.

Kopf vacates a position at forward, which Juniper imagines will be filled by Sanderlin, Mar Rodriguez, Cami Privett, a freshman or a transfer to play alongside Natalia Ledezma on the front line next season.

With Devine, Goodson, Christopher and Hardeman graduating, 5-foot-4-inch Zoya Farzenah is expected to be the lone returning defender in 2012.

“The whole group of [seniors], I’m just going to miss them,” Juniper said. “I’m going to miss them bouncing around the office and having them at practice. I just hope they stay involved and stay around, I think they’ve got a lot to offer the younger players, and I just look forward to seeing their success in the next few years.”