Two games into conference play, the UC Irvine women’s soccer team (9-4-1, 2-0-1) has been the epitome of a hard-nosed, gritty defense force, which the group can attest to through a pair of clean sheets, a nod from the Big West, and an Anteater weekly honor.
While UCI is just beginning to dip their toes into conference action, they have already shutout their opposition on seven occasions this year, which is more than the team had managed for the entirety of last season, non-conference and conference games alike.
Head coach Scott Juniper’s thunderous backline has simply been suffocating and swarming their opponents, preventing them from taking on many easy looks. In fact, the squad currently sits atop the Big West with the least amount of shots taken on frame at 3.14 a night.
Junior defender Andrea Mensen received her first ever Big West Defensive Player of the Week nod since 2014 when Clarissa Robles and Alana Sooy took home honors on two consecutive weeks for the ‘Eaters. Of the 48 matches she has logged thus far in her collegiate career, Mensen has started 35, including all matches from last season and the current one at play.
Freshman Maddie Newsom has wasted no time in her premiere season for the ‘Eaters tallying a grand total of 1,311:46 minutes played this year — a number that had led all goalies in the nation. Last Wednesday, Newsom was named the Buffalo Wild Wings Anteater of the Week after recording her sixth shutout in the season. A goal has not passed through her for 200 minutes and counting.
During their Black and Blue Rivalry against Long Beach (6-5-2, 2-0-1), a game that would go on to end in a draw after 110 minutes of play, Newsom gloved and rejected eight challenges that met her between the posts.
Two days later, Newsom snagged all four of UC Riverside’s (3-8-3, 0-3-0) shots on goal to secure a 2-0 victory for the ‘Eaters. Three of the four shots came in the first half when the Highlanders were teasing at an equalizer after senior Midfielder Sammie James clocked one in on the eighth minute to push the ‘Eaters out on an early lead.
Off a cross from Noel Baham, who has seemingly grown fond of beating defenders down the right wing, James received the ball in the center where she crushed it into the onion bag for her second goal of the year.
With Newsom and the backline taking care of the post, junior forward Grayson Galbraith managed to dispossess a highlander player to set up a perfect cushion in the 40th minute.
Reading a highlander miscue, Galbraith found her foot a top the ball near center field where she subsequently lurched forward and sent it left toward sophomore midfielder Lili Andino for the insurance.
Andino’s goal marks her fifth of the year. Her last three goals have come during shutout contests and have served to secure and patent the ‘Eaters’ lead.
With their undefeated standing, UCI has picked up four conference points and is currently engaged in a three way tie with CSUN and UC Davis for third.
The squad will head to UC Davis this Thursday before returning for their home opener on Sunday against CSUN.