UCI Climbs Atop Conference With Two Straight Victories

With a four game home stretch that got off on the wrong foot last weekend, head coach Scott Juniper called on his team to redeem their backbreaking loss to CSUN (9-4-5, 4-1-1).

“We should have won the game… which would have made us feel good about playing at home [so] we got to make it right,” said head coach Scott Juniper following the loss to the Matadors. “Our fans come out to watch us play and they want to see us do a little better… so we got to make that right.”

The UC Irvine women’s soccer team (12-5-1, 4-1-1) would respond accordingly picking up two crucial victories last Friday and Sunday over Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara to draw six points on the week.

With just two games left in Big West play, UCI has now ascended and met CSUN atop the conference with 13 points apiece.

Cal Poly

When the Mustangs (6-10-2, 1-5-1) launched a shot that ruptured the ‘Eaters’ net in the 31st minute, a collective sigh descended upon Anteater stadium. For many fans in attendance, the scene had been all too familiar with one that had occurred just five days ago.

For the second straight time at home, UCI had staggered out of the pitch and the Mustangs, much like the Matadors had done two weeks ago, would capitalize on it.

This time around, however, the ‘Eaters kept their poise, going on a steady attack that came into fruition with a crucial equalizer and subsequent game winner.

Junior midfielder Grayson Galbraith, who went down in the 29th minute on a hard foul, kept a “blue mind” and returned in the second half to drive in the equalizer.

“One of our team mottos is ‘blue mind’…[it means] to always stay cool in moments of adversity or craziness,” said Galbraith.

In the first half, the game got off to a chippy start with both teams jostling for position. Cal Poly, who is second in the nation, yellow and red cards, would go on to pick up three yellow cards and fifteen fouls as the ‘Eaters collected two yellow cards and 11 fouls on their own.

As the ‘Eaters missed a few opportunities that were turned over off of miscues, Cal Poly began to assert themselves.

On a momentary lapse on defense in the 32nd minute, Cal Poly drove the ball up the right flank and crossed it into the box where freshman forward Jessica Johnson quickly gathered and flung it straight toward UCI freshman keeper Maddie Newsom and a number of ‘Eater defenders who made it back to protect home. As Johnson’s shot was sent away, the rebound descended upon junior midfielder Emily Hensen who found a clear window and tapped it in to draw prolonged groans and small jeers from the bleachers.

Challenged with yet another test to their composure, coach Juniper regrouped his team at the half, encouraging them to continue probing and pushing.

“I told [the team] to keep playing… don’t freak out, don’t play frustrated, don’t get all frantic… just keep doing the things that you’ve been doing well,” said coach Juniper.

The ‘Eaters would go on to heed his words, answering the bell with an explosive second half that saw to two quick conversations that came within a span of minutes.

Emerging with a fiery energy that was kicked off by a shot on frame from freshman midfielder Jessica Miclat, UCI persistently hounded the Mustangs offensively, driving the ball up the field in synchronization with the steady rallying cries of coach Juniper.

UCI’s aggressiveness would be awarded when the team drew a hard foul and yellow card on the 52nd minute to earn a corner kick.

“We made a couple of adjustments about the way we were going to play and I think it showed during the first 20 minutes [of the second half],” coach Juniper said. “We started to get really aggressive when we had the ball [and] some players realized how good they are tonight.”

On the set piece sent in by redshirt defender Reema Bzeih, Galbraith brought a thunderous roar from the crowd as she rose up to meet the ball and crushed a header over the outreached hands of Cal Poly freshman keeper Sophia Brown to knot the game up.

The crowd did not have to sit for long as the ‘Eaters hit an offensive stride and would return just three minutes later to take the lead.

On a quick turnaround following a mistimed Cal Poly corner kick, Bzeih began a break up the right side and again, timed a flawless cross that landed right by the feet of sophomore midfielder Lili Andino. With a little snap, Andino found redshirt junior forward Noel Baham who tucked in a shot that skidded into the lower post to make it 2-1.

“The biggest thing for us is that we need to come out with a new mentality to fight… to win every ball,” Galbraith said. “We were down 1-0 in the first half… so the biggest thing was not to get down on ourselves and to just keep grinding [and] to keep going because we still have 45 minutes left… that’s a lot of time to come back and that’s what we did.”

With an insecure 2-1 lead, the ‘Eaters backline worked the same magic that they have had for the majority of the season. Newsom went on to snag three saves, including a crucial denial in the 57th minute that threatened a tie.

When Cal Poly junior forward McKenzie Flood leaked out and met Newsom on a one on one break, the first year keeper slid and turned Flood back to keep the advantage.

Sophomore Jonnae Joseph was a lightning bolt on the field, finding herself blitzing around numerous spots on the field and coming up with crucial dispossessions down the wire.

“Full credits to our defense this whole season,” Galbraith said. “They’ve held it down [and] they’ve worked so hard together. It’s just a strong unit through every layer of the field… our backline and Maddie [Newsom] at goal has been phenomenal.”

As UC Santa Barbara (11-4-2, 2-3-1) ended up taking a loss at Riverside, the victory proved to be a crucial one for the ‘Eaters who managed to ascend to the third place spot in Big West standings.

It would not be last time the team would move up the conference ladder.

UC Santa Barbara

Sporadic showers and a cloudy evening sky did not take away from the ‘Eaters’ joyous smiles as they celebrated their Think Pink evening for Breast Cancer Awareness with a 1-0 victory over the visiting Gauchos (11-4-2, 2-3-1).

Despite being outshot 13-2, the ‘Eaters’ offensive execution in the opening half was reminiscent of the flare and promise that the team had displayed on Friday.

Baham, who knocked in the game-winner against the Mustangs, put the match away again, but this time, early in the 19th minute to set the pressure on Santa Barbara.

“We chased the game Friday night,” coach Juniper said. “Today, Noel had a top class run [and] top class finish. That was a one chance and it’s one goal so that gave us the foundation that we built from there.”

As Karlowitsch danced around a few defenders around the center circle, she spotted a blitzing Baham who had a clear window to the target. With a high lob, Baham controlled it, met Gaucho sophomore keeper Brittney Rogers head to head, and sent a cracker into the back of the net. Baham’s goal marked her second on the week, sixth on the season.

“It was definitely a great feeling being able to help my team and get some goals in so that we don’t have to keep coming back from behind and I think that our defense gave us an opportunity to have that one goal lead,” Baham said of her first half conversion. “When we score early it’s easier for us to keep attacking and we have a little more freedom and patience on the ball.”

Hungry for a victory after a 3-0 loss to Riverside on Friday, Santa Barbara would not go out quietly and bruised forward offensively with a full head of steam.

Recognizing their assertiveness, coach Juniper redirected his attention to the defense.

“You have to win games from a lot of different ways,” coach Juniper said. “When you get a goal up from a team like Santa Barbara…they want to play up behind you, they want to play in the attacking third so you have to take that space away from them.”

Taking advantage of a number of free kicks, the Gauchos gave the ‘Eaters some scares in the second half with a few headers that connected within the box but went high over the crossbar. One of Santa Barbara’s best chances came in the 80th minute when sophomore midfielder Sydney Magnin launched a header that bounced off Newsom’s gloves and found the foot of midfielder Mallory Hromatko, who collected the rebound and flicked it back at Newsom. Having taken a dive on the ground, Newsom regathered herself and sent the ball back and away to secure her eighth shut out in the year.

Even though the team has earned their place atop the conference, coach Juniper is not concerned about the standings so much as the next game in the books.

“We’re worrying about Hawaii right now,” coach Juniper said. “It’s nice to be up there but we’ll be preparing for Hawaii. As soon as they step over that white line…it’s Hawaii, Hawaii, Hawaii.”

Following a highly successful week of play, the ‘Eaters will work to conclude their final conference home game against Hawaii this Friday at 7:00 p.m. before heading over to Cal State Fullerton to officially close out conference play.

The top four teams will advance to the Big West Conference Tournament, which will be hosted at Long Beach State’s George Allen Field. The semi finals will kick off on Nov. , and the championship game will take place three days later.