By Vaibhav Rajeev Gowda and Hunter Hermanson
Photographed by Kate Rutz-Robbins
UCI Men’s soccer finished the regular season 11-5-3 ranked No.1 in the Big West. After a brutal loss to UC Davis that ended by way a of penalty kick where the ‘Eaters fell 5-6, UCI had their Big West title dreams ruined. However, thanks to an fortuitous at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, UCI hosted the Grand Canyon University Antelopes for the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Antelopes were 12-8 after winning the WAC title to earn their spot in the tournament. GCU brought a six-game win streak to Anteater stadium but also a 3-5 record on the road. Penalty kicks were again needed to decide the victor of the game. However, unlike their previous battle against Davis, the ‘Eaters rose to the occasion, beating GCU in penalty kicks 7-6. After eclipsing the Antelopes in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the ‘Eaters took on the defending NCAA champs Stanford, but lost 0-2 after giving up two goals late in the game.
The first half against GCU saw fairly even play, though the ‘Eaters maintained possession for a significant portion of the half. Despite this, the shots for the half were close with UCI finishing with five and GCU four. The ‘Eater’s ball movement made it difficult for GCU to generate chances, but also hindered the ‘Eaters as they struggled to convert opportunities into shots. Sophomore forward Lawrence Yamaguchi obtained a strong chance early on but could not get the ball past the Antelope’s defense. UCI’s goal keeper, senior Greg Patenaude, had three saves, one in each half, and another big save in the first OT period.
After a lackluster first half from both teams that ended scoreless, GCU started the second half strong courtesy of a goal from Jackson Jellah at the 48th minute.
The Anteater’s star striker Ivan Canales was absent for most of the game and only appeared late in the second period of overtime. The defensive duo, Darren Hamilton and Jose Soto, were solid at the back, making several goal saving clearances and tackles to keep the ‘Lopes at bay.
Following the saves, Ateno Ajeakwa was the catalyst to UC Irvine’s success, coming on as a substitute in both halves to provide energy to the midfield. His efforts helped UCI equalise with his powerful kick from outside the box coming from a pass from a corner, that was then deflected into the goal by a GCU defender. From then on UCI looked the better side, creating more opportunities and chances in the attacking third.
Regulation could not decide the game, and after two periods of golden goal, OT penalty kicks were needed. Sophomore Jalani Ambrose scored his penalty kick in the seventh round to again put the pressure on Patenaude to come up with a game winning save. That round the ‘Eaters stopped the Antelopes as Patenaude dove left to push the ball wide of the net and end the PKs with UCI winning 6-5.
The Anteaters made the trip up to Stanford four days after their win over GCU. Stanford brought a 13-3-4 record to the match up, but the ‘Eaters still came to play. It was not until the 72nd minute that Stanford was able to score when their defender Tanner Beason had a penalty kick. This proved to be too much for the ‘Eaters to recuperate from. Despite the odds, UCI remained in the fight and improved offensively following the first half, as they had 8 shots in the second. Despite this improvement Stanford held strong and in the 82nd minute they worked another ball past UCI’s defense to extend their lead 2-0.
The ‘Eater loss removed them from the tournament and ended their season. They finished with a 11-6-4 record. After the Loss to Stanford, UCI’s all time NCAA record is 4-6-1 after six tournament appearances.