A Trio of ‘Eaters lifted the UC Irvine women’s soccer team (2-1-2) over the Toledo Rockets (1-3-1) in a dominant 3-0 victory Sunday evening at the Anteater Stadium.
Senior forward Kiana Palacios, redshirt senior Noel Baham, and junior midfielder Shelby Lee paced UCI’s offensive tempo, combining for nine of the team’s 15 total shot attempts on the night.
“The big part of the game plan was to do better than we did on Friday…that was a game that we should have won,” head coach Scott Juniper said of the team’s mindset heading into Sunday’s match. “I think everyone did well today…everyone who went in did their job and that’s what we ask them to do.”
Palacios, who recently received a Co-Big West Player of the Week honor, blasted in the first goal of the match within the opening two minutes.
The conversion solidified what turned out to be a spectacular home stretch for Palacios who converted a total of three goals—including the two she had put in during last Monday afternoon’s 3-0 victory over Portland—on the week. She has now accumulated 21 goals and 52 career points in the blue and yellow.
Palacios’ goal also marked the first career point for senior midfielder Maritza Acuna who assisted on the play.
After 37 career matches and 26 all-time attempts, Lee finally saw one of her shots pierce the net Friday. Positioned slightly to the right of the box within the 22nd minute, Lee took control of a chip from Palacios with her back slightly turned to the keeper. With the ball still in mid-air, the Carlsbad, Calif. product planted her right foot while arching her left at a near ninety degree angle to snap the beauty high over the keeper.
“It was great…it felt a little surreal,” Lee said of her first career goal. “I kicked it and saw it go in and I got super excited. My brothers came today which was exciting too.”
Baham put the icing on the cake when she collected the ball from touches off of junior defender Jonnae Joseph and freshman forward Sydney Carr and flung it in at the 80th minute. Along with the late bomb, Baham tallied a successful header and assist during last Monday’s match to earn five points on the week.
Carr’s assist on the play awarded the crafty offensive rookie her first career point.
Defender Reema Bzeih, who shares the Co-Big West Player of the Week title with Palacios, found herself all over the field against the Rockets. Not only did she hold the line with Joseph, junior Andrea Mensen, and redshirt junior Aleah Kelley, but she also had a hand in setting up Palacios’ and Lee’s goals.
For the week, Bzeih collected three assists while playing a huge part in helping the ‘Eaters continue their ongoing shutout record which currently sits at 420 minutes.
“Our defense obviously did very well,” Lee said. “They have been doing phenomenal for the past couple of games…well all the games actually.”
Toledo managed to put up seven shots, four on frame, and gave the ‘Eaters a good scare with two shots that clinked off the post. But with UCI controlling the pace and holding on to the possession for the majority of the match, the Rockets dropped their third ever meeting with the ‘Eaters since their 3-0 loss 17 years ago. Against MAC schools, UCI improves to 7-0-1.
“We wanted to really focus on getting the goals early and finishing the goals,” Lee said. “I think our last game showed that you could be close but when you don’t score, you don’t win. So this game was about learning to finish it…and we did.”
Having enjoyed a three game homestead, the ‘Eaters will head out to face LMU before returning to Anteater Stadium to face a PAC-12 foe in the Oregon Ducks.
“I the mentality of this team is that we got LMU on Friday,” coach Juniper said. “We’ve beat Oregon last year…we’ve beat Oregon on the road. We know what they bring…we know they are really good on the road so we’ll have to be at our best to win that game but we won’t talk to our players about that until Friday night when we hopefully get the result we need against LMU.”