The UC Irvine Women’s Soccer team (13-5-0, 8-2-0) defeated the Cal Poly Mustangs (12-7-0, 8-2-0), 2-0, at the Anteater Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 31. This resounding victory dethroned the Mustangs and secured the Big West regular season championship for Irvine.
Out of the gate both teams harnessed intense energy. In the beginning of the sixth minute the Cal Poly offense pushed into the Anteater defense, only to swing the ball directly in front of Mustang senior midfielder Grace Park. With only half a dozen yards of open space between her and the goal, Park sailed the ball five feet too far over the crossbar.
Squandering that golden opportunity seemed to linger in the Mustang’s heads, slowing their momentum, allowing the ‘Eaters to take back the offensive. Only 30 seconds later, three Anteaters ran the ball past every defender in their path. A simple tap from junior midfielder Scarlett Camberos set up freshman forward Desiree Mendoza to bury the ball into the net.
Beyond the opening offensive flurry, the game soon settled into a controlled affair, testing teamwork and coordination as much as speed and skill. Every sharp pass was matched with a powerful header as the teams vied for field positioning.
“They are a very well coached team,” UCI women’s soccer head coach Scott Juniper said. “A team with a really well defined pattern of play that’s difficult to manage.”
Speed became the deciding factor of the match. When midfielders broke down for both teams, Irvine was simply faster to act and recover. In the 27th minute Mustang sophomore forward Nikki Trucco had the ball beyond midfield, past the Anteater defense, with a yard of space and a full head of steam. Despite this lead, Anteater freshman defender Kiera Smeenge ran Trucco down and kicked the ball away before a shot attempt was made.
Offensively, the story was similar. Players like Mendoza and Camberos routinely ran past their defenders only to be swallowed up when space ran short. Despite being unable to net another goal in the half, the Anteaters inflicted an evident mental and physical toll onto their opponents.
This fatigue was evident in the 53rd minute when Mendoza sent a high arcing corner kick to the middle of the Mustang goal. The uncoordinated short jumps of the defenders allowed redshirt sophomore forward Destinee Manzo to rise above them and head the ball into the goal. While the UCI offense exploded in jubilation swarming Manzo, the entire Cal Poly team looked confused.
As the match came to a close, a few possessions by both teams looked promising, but quickly fizzled out as the outcome of the game sunk in. When the clock hit 90:00, the Anteaters looked like the happiest people on earth with each UCI playersporting a wide grin.
“I think we are seeing the rewards of their hard work over time,” Juniper said. “I am so happy for these players, but we have a few games coming up that are even more important.”
Next, the Irvine team will host the fourth seed of the Big West conference semi-final on Thursday, Nov. 4 at Anteater Stadium.
Benjamin Hendricks is a Sports Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.