On a Friday night where the UC Irvine Women’s Soccer team (13-5-1, 5-2-1) honored their five graduating seniors for the final time at Anteater Stadium, it was only fitting that senior captain Kelsey Texeira would go on to knock in the game winning goal to make it 2-1 against Hawai’i. More importantly, it was a goal that secured the team a spot in the postseason tournament.
Tied up at the half, freshman midfielder Jessica Miclat jump-started a break in the 59th minute, whirling and steering the ball right into Hawai’i’s box where sophomore midfielder Lili Andino patiently awaited the set up. As a few Hawai’i defenders jerked forward to disrupt the play, Miclat swiftly fed Andino who launched it right by a crevice that formed between the post and Hawaii senior keeper Monk Berger.
As Andino’s kick popped off the Berger’s gloves, Texeira saw a closing window, and lurched forward.
“It was chaos in the box and the ball was just getting passed around,” Texeira said. “In my mind I was saying, ‘if this pops out… I’m going to score this goal’ and sure enough it popped out and I knew I just had to slide for it and I slid for it. It wasn’t a pretty goal but it was a goal nonetheless and I’m glad we got it together.”
With Berger hunched out inches from the post, Texeira gave the ball enough force to carry it into the left post, sending the team into a frenzy.
By the game’s end, UCI had much to revel about. Not only had they pulled off a hard fought victory that had seen to 12 shots for each team — seven and nine of which were at bay for Hawai’i and UCI respectively — but they had also officially punched in their ticket into the Big West Tournament with 16 points on the season.
“It’s awesome… it’s so awesome,” Texeira said of drawing a victory on senior night. “That was what the goal was coming into it and to be able to achieve that together and put in such a hard performance from every player… it just makes it worthwhile.”
UCI did not spare a minute to kick off the fireworks. 37 seconds into the opening half, a botched Berger clearance was collected atop the box by Miclat who quickly popped it into the net.
The first year Chino Hills native was locked in for the entirety of the evening, wowing the crowd with a ball-handling exhibition at which she broke past the Rainbow Wahine’s backline on a number of occasions. Miclat would finish the night with two shots on target, a goal, and an assist on the game winning play.
Hawaii, however, would come in to rain on the fun. As stunned as Hawai’i was with the initial goal, so too, were the ‘Eaters.
“It was [a] really difficult [situation] because we scored after about thirty seconds,” coach Juniper said. “At that point, you’ve shocked them but you’ve shocked yourself as well… so it’s difficult to get the mindset right.”
Playing with a desperation expected of a team trailing by an early deficit, the Rainbow Wahine powered back with three quick successions of shots. While freshman keeper Maddie Newsom and UCI’s backline cleared the first two, the third would land in favor of Hawai’i.
Drawing a foul on UCI, Hawai’i sent a corner kick into the box where Newsom smashed it out, but Hawai’i sophomore midfielder Raisa Strom-Okimoto returned the denial with a slugger that equalized the game.
“They played really well,” coach Juniper said. “They credited their chances and they got their goal and then we had to really change the shape again… change a couple of things at half time and I thought we came out of the second half and dominated the vast amount of possessions.”
With the game up in the air, both teams fired away to open the second half, but the ‘Eaters would ultimately take hold of the momentum.
The Rainbow Wahine took the first attempt at goal. Eying an early opportunity to take the lead, freshman forward Tia Furuta drove into ‘Eater territory and snapped one at Newsom who recovered it for her fourth save on the night. Newsom would end up with one more rejection to draw out five recoveries on the game and 50 for the year.
Miclat answered for the ‘Eaters, blitzing up through the middle where she skidded one to Berger. On a Hawai’i foul, Miclat would return moments later, assisting on the ensuing game winning goal in the 59th minute.
The victory would mark an appropriate send off for Texeira and fellow senior teammates Sammie James, Tatyana Garrett, McKenna Pigoni, and Maria Magaña who drew a tumultuous applause during a tribute following the game.
“This is a group of seniors have contributed in so many ways that won’t ever be captured by statistics [or] historical archives,” coach Juniper said. “There are a lot of those things but this is a group that has gone through a lot. They have gone through the highs and the lows together, they’ve stuck together, they’ve stuck through it. I’m just so proud of them… to see where they’ve come from and where they’re at. They’re all wonderful women and we’re excited for the next chapter of their lives.”
On Sunday, the ‘Eaters traveled to Cal State Fullerton in hopes of taking home their first regular season title since 2011. With a victory at Fullerton and loss or tie from CSUN at Hawai’i, UCI would take home the first seed in the Big West Tournament along with the title.
Despite going up early in the first half of their final regular conference season, an errant goal and a conversion in overtime lifted the Titans over UCI, 2-1.
Redshirt sophomore Elizabeth Hutchison came up big for the ‘Eaters late in the 44th minute when she chipped one up and over senior keeper Jennifer Stuart to take a 1-0 lead heading into the half.
However, in the second half, a wayward UCI clearance wandered past Newsom and into the nets within the 67th minute to tie up the game, 1-1.
With the game knotted up after 90 minutes of regulation, the match headed into overtime where Titans junior forward Sarah Fajnor spoiled the ‘Eaters chances of earning their first conference title since 2011 with a cannon that pierced the back of the net.
The loss places the ‘Eaters in second behind CSUN, who came up with a conversion in double overtime against Hawai’i to solidify their place atop the conference.
UCI will head to Long Beach State for the Big West Tournament Semifinals this Thursday to face off in a rematch against Fullerton at 7:30 p.m. The championship game will take place on Sunday.