Switching Goals

Phuc Pham | New University

Natalia Ledezma, the current points leader on the UC Irvine women’s soccer team, leads assists with five and is among the top scorers, with three on the season. It’s safe to say that Ledezma is a key forward in the Anteaters’ lineup that has contributed to their 4-1 conference record.

Ledezma, a third-year psychology and social behavior major, is no stranger to success. Having started soccer at the ripe old age of four, she’s been winning championships and participating on the national level for the sport for quite some time.

“I started with AYSO and played that for about six or seven years, then joined the Anaheim Soccer Club, played with them for two years, then played another two with the Irvine Strikers. I won a national championship with them, which was for the under-14 age group. I also played with the youth national teams on the under-14 and under-16 levels,” Ledezma said.

Having grown up in La Mirada, California, this Orange County native was a Bruin before she came back south of the LA County border to be an Anteater.

“I played through high school at La Mirada High on varsity all four years. I played with Slammers FC, my last club, and then I went to UCLA and played for a year, and then transferred to UCI,” Ledezma said.

“UCLA just wasn’t for me. I felt like I needed a change, and I like that UCI is a more laid-back school, and I’m a laid-back person, so it fit.”

With Ledezma leading the team in points, Anteaters can be happy she decided to come back to the OC last year to join the team.

“I love the Irvine campus, it’s really relaxed and that’s what I love about it. I have a lot of friends here that I know from the clubs I’ve played on and from high school; I knew a lot of people before I transferred, so that helped a lot making the transition.”

As with all athletes at UCI, balancing student life with the demands of being an athlete can be difficult. However, with a prime class schedule, Ledezma has been finding it easier to balance her time this quarter.

“Being a student athlete right now is pretty easy, I only have class Monday through Wednesday this quarter, so that’s fortunate,” Ledezma said.

With Irvine’s location being near to her hometown, a bonus to being an ‘Eater is that her family and friends are more easily able to come watch Ledezma’s home games.

“Family and friends come out to games so I get to see them there. [Soccer] season is obviously the hardest time to be more social, but when season is done it gets easier to do that. We train just as much in the off-season, just without the games pretty much.”

When Ledezma isn’t out working on her skill set and practicing with the team, she spends her time at the beach and relaxing.

“When I’m not playing soccer I’m pretty much just at the beach. I live in Newport, so it’s right there,” she said.

When asked about her experience with the team and with Coach Scott Juniper, she had nothing but positive things to say.

“I love Scott and the coaches, and I love the team. [Scott] is super understanding of the student-athlete experience and understands the balance between school and soccer. Sometimes too much soccer is too much, and he definitely knows how to manage our fatigue, which is crazy because there are a lot of coaches that don’t know how to do that. He’s talented and knows a lot about soccer, so that’s great.”

With the bulk of their home games yet to be played for the women’s team, there are still plenty of opportunities to make your way out to Anteater Stadium to watch Ledezma and the rest of the team work their way back to the Division I NCAA tournament.