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UC Irvine Women’s Soccer Defeat UC Santa Barbara to Advance to the Big West Championship Game, 1-0

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The UC Irvine Women’s Soccer team (14-5-0, 8-2-0) defeated the UCSB Gauchos (8-9-3, 6-3-1), 1-0, at the Anteater Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 4. Utilizing their home court advantage, the ‘Eaters took down the Gauchos for the second time this season.

The game began with two contrasting strategies. Santa Barbara played aggressively, sending their plethora of midfielders to attack the ball and steal possessions. On the other hand, Irvine played back, trusting their players to use the space and defend in depth.

The Gauchos’ approach appeared to be paying dividends early in the game; by the eighth minute, they had gotten three shots on goal even with the Anteaters on their heels.  Yet, none of these opportunities came to fruition due to the excellent teamwork Irvine’s defenders demonstrated. Throughout the first half, UCI used positioning and driving energy to move the Santa Barbara offense into poorer positions, resulting in inefficient shots.

“This is a team that doesn’t need me to bring an intensity before the game,” UCI head coach Scott Juniper said. “It is woven into the fabric of the team.”

The game ceased at a tough stalemate going into halftime. For the 15 minute intermission, the ‘Eaters regrouped in their heated tent while the Gauchos huddled close on the side of the field. The cold mist rolled in on the field, promising a foreboding second half. As halftime drew to a close, Irvine was warmed up and ready to go.

Irvine’s advantage became apparent almost immediately; within 15 seconds, they got the ball to Big West Offensive Player of the Year and junior midfielder Scarlett Camberos, who streaked up the middle of the field. After a deft dribble to shake her defender, she entered the goalie box with only UCSB junior keeper Evann Smith in front of her. In retaliation, Smith charged and tackled Camberos, sweeping her legs out from under the unsuspecting midfielder.

Camberos tumbled over dramatically as the referee’s whistle blew. Smith received a yellow card while Camberos was granted a penalty kick. It seemed almost too easy to score the one and only goal of the night as Camberos lined up and drilled the ball into the net. Anteater Stadium erupted in cheers as the team mobbed Camberos.

“I think the halftime talk, we chilled out,” Camberos said. “We just started playing how we usually play.”

Undeterred by the Irvine goal, the Gauchos furiously attempted a comeback; however, they were stymied at every turn by Big West Defender of the Year and junior defender Maddy Chavez. She seemed to have a preternatural awareness for the ball and the tenacity to put it in the most harmless place.

“We just had to go out there and work,” Chavez said. “Shut-outs win Championships.” 

Next, the Irvine team will face off against the Cal Poly Mustangs for the Big West Championship, who will likely prove to be the ‘Eater’s biggest challenge of the year.. 

“It’s going to be a very difficult game,” Juniper said of the match. “We’re going to have to be at our best to win that one.”

The Big West Championship will be played at Anteater Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 7.

Benjamin Hendricks is a Sports Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at bahendr1@uci.edu.