By Marvin Luu
When senior defender Clarissa Robles put a move on a Santa Clara defender and went blurring down the right wing within the 62nd minute mark, many of the 877 fans in attendance at the Anteater Stadium this past Friday erupted with cheer. Despite the 3-0 deficit that came in the next minute, the fans continued to applaud as Robles’s efforts soon earned the ‘Eaters a throw-in that landed by the feet of freshman midfielder Kelsee Pottorff, who aimed carefully, and fired a shot high into the air. As the ball sailed up and over the goal post, the crowd relapsed into a silent mutter. The unsuccessful shot attempt soon became another footnote of a tough 4-0 loss to the No. 23 Broncos team (7-3-0) that had just dismantled Stanford (7-2-0) and CSUN (7-4-0) a week earlier.
Returning from an eight-game road trip that stretched across four states, the UC Irvine women’s soccer team (4-6-1) was welcomed home on Friday evening for the first time since August. Having maneuvered through a laborious up-and-down preseason campaign that saw four losses, three wins and a draw, the ‘Eaters closed out their final non-conference game with a tough matchup against Santa Clara.
In the loss, the ‘Eaters had moments throughout the game (like Robles and Pottorff’s efforts) that managed to energize the crowd, but Santa Clara’s offensive punch proved to be too much to overcome, especially when they managed to put up eight of their 15 total shots in the first half, two of which converted into goals.
Broncos midfielder Julie Vass delivered one of the two early blows when she sent in a low shot that cruised past UCI senior goalie Corey Tobin from the right side of the box within the 13th minute mark. Roughly seven minutes later, Santa Clara returned with a shot by forward Grace Cutler that sailed passed Tobin before she could get to it. Cutler would go on to end the night with two goals, the second of which came within the 63rd minute mark of the game.
“We did many things right in the first half [but] those two goals really put us on our heels,” head coach Scott Juniper said. “We haven’t seen the video yet. . .but I think that when we look at the video we will be disappointed that we conceded those two goals.”
In spite of the two goals, the ‘Eaters did tighten up defensively towards the end of the first period. While Tobin managed to save three of Santa Clara’s five shots in the half, UCI collectively forced the Broncos to make some adjustments to their lineup at the start of the second half.
“We shut down their playmaker [midfielder Jordan Jesolva] so we did really, really well in that regard,” coach Juniper said. “She got taken out and didn’t even play the second half so that was a small success for the first half.”
In the second half, the ‘Eaters turned up the intensity and made much more of an effort to score. Offensively, UCI applied pressure on the Broncos’s defenders, attempting four of their five shot attempts in the second half, with Pottorff and Robles splitting the attempts at two apiece. Robles, one of the few seniors on the team, played the entire game and was catalyst for the ‘Eaters’ offense late in the game while also serving as a primary defender in UCI’s backline.
With a team that consists of 23 players with less than two years of experience with the ‘Eaters and 17 that are competing in just their second year of collegiate play, UCI is in need of prominent leaders.
“Experience in games like this is super important, so [Robles] is doing a great job leading our team,” said Coach Juniper. “Haley [O’Brien] and Corey [Tobin] on the field were also doing an equally good job, but it’s tough. There are a lot of freshman out there that have had such little experience in college soccer [and] we’re up against a very experienced team so they’re leading each other and that’s a big challenge for us.”
Pottorff and Robles’s attempts at cutting the deficit proved to be futile as the Broncos ultimately sealed the game at the 69th minute mark when Santa Clara midfielder Kellie Peay connected with a header off of an assist by midfielder Jenna Holtz and Vass. The goal marked the fourth of the night, handing the ‘Eaters a 4-0 loss.
“We can’t concede four goals,” said Coach Juniper. “We are giving up chances that are too easy. [Offensively] we just need to string together a couple more passes and have a little more composure in the final third. We’ve got the possessions but now it’s just crafting better chances out of [them].”
The team will have an entire week before they return to Anteater Stadium next Sunday, Oct. 1 at 1 pm, where they will begin conference play against UC Riverside.