Although conference play has not officially kicked off, the 2016-2017 campaign has already been a historic one for the UC Irvine Women’s Soccer team, who opened the season with a fiery four game undefeated stretch and answered their first loss by going on yet another four game victory run before falling to Utah on Sunday evening. The team’s high caliber play has reflected well on their standings, which have now blossomed to 8-2-0—the best start that the program has seen since 1989 when the ‘Eaters went on an 8-0-1 tear.
With a victory over Idaho State last Thursday, UCI has officially won more games this year than they did for the entirety of last season, a feat that may be attributed to excellent play on both ends of the pitch, but is made most apparent through the team’s much improved efficiency at attacking their opponents.
Ten games into this season, the ‘Eaters have already put 22 through the net as opposed to a collective 14 for the entirety of the 2015-2016 year. Additionally, the team is taking 14.2 shots while converting an average of 2.20 goals a night.
Junior forward Kiana Palacios has continued to show promise as UCI’s principal offensive catalyst, taking on nine goals for 36 shots on the season while also adding five assists into the mix. The Lake Forest native leads all ‘Eaters in scoring and is currently topping the nation in goals and points.
Redshirt junior forward Noel Baham has also been having a career year thus far. After scoring two goals and collecting three assists to help the ‘Eaters sweep their competition in the Fullerton Tournament, Baham was awarded her first Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Week nod. With her six assists on the season, Baham currently sits at third place in the respective category on national rankings.
This past week, the ‘Eaters kept their tour de force rolling when they shutout the Idaho State Bengals (3-7-0) on Thursday, 3-0.
In just 11 minutes of the opening half, Palacios fired up two goals to provide the ‘Eaters with the lead and security to go along with it. The first conversion came at the five-minute mark when redshirt senior defender Kelsey Texeira crossed one through to Palacios who dribbled past a defender to bring it home.
The Bengals, however, made sure that it would not be a lopsided affair. In fact, they had went on to take four more shots than the ‘Eaters had on the game, 16-12.
Following the Palacios goal, Idaho State muscled up three consecutive shots at UCI freshman keeper Maddie Newsom, who came up and managed to secure every single one. By the end of the evening, Newsom had gathered six saves for her fifth clean sheet as an Anteater.
Having successfully weathered the Bengals’ onslaught of shots, Palacios returned for the ‘Eaters six minutes later to serve up Idaho State junior keeper Shawna Hennings once more. This time Palacios collected a feed off of Newsom and found herself hovering in the box where she lobbed one up and over Hennings to make it a 2-0 cushion. Attempting to close in on the lead, Idaho State found two clean looks in the 22nd and 37th minutes but Newsom had an answer for both attempts.
In the second half, the Bengals retaliated with eight shots; none of which had managed to hit its mark. On the flipside, the ‘Eaters continued to stay poised and took on some looks, including an early one in the 55th minute that was recovered by freshman keeper Katie Hogarth, who had entered the game for Hennings and played the entirety of the half.
After a back and forth period where neither team commanded the momentum, sophomore midfielder Lili Andino knocked in goal number four on the season in the 72nd minute to put the game away. The goal marked Andino’s second consecutive game-sealing conversion.
With momentum on their backs, UCI hoped to make it five in a row against Utah (5-2-1), only to be turned back with a crushing conversion by Utes freshman sophomore forward Hailey Skolmoski in the 51st minute.
When Utah drew a foul on the ‘Eaters, freshman defender Tavia Leachman served up a shot that was deflected by a UCI defender before Skolmoski recovered it and buried a shot past Newsom for what would become the dagger.
UCI came out swinging first, outshooting Utah 6-4 on the opening half and 11-10 for the game.
At the 33rd minute mark Texeira was the first to challenge Utes freshman keeper Carly Nelson. Off a blocked shot, Texeira controlled it and directed it at Nelson who snagged it.
Palacios, who fired two on the mark, brought the heat back to Nelson four minutes later but the rookie keeper refused to be shaken. By the end of the night, Nelson would go on to shutout the ‘Eaters, denying them on five occasions.
Her last save of the night came in the 62nd minute when UCI sophomore midfielder Shelby Lee nearly equalized the game with a shot off of a blocked Palacios attempt.
Despite the loss, the ‘Eaters have competed well in their first 10 games of the season, nearly battling back in their two sole losses on the season. UCI will look to start another streak up this Thursday against Santa Clara before returning home Sunday for a 2:00pm kick off against Portland.