The UC Irvine Women’s Soccer team (15-5-0, 8-2-0) defeated the Cal Poly Mustangs (13-8-0, 8-2-0), 1-0, at the Anteater Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 7. The Anteaters gutted out the win to secure the Big West crown as well as an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
UCI burst out of the gates with overwhelming energy, immediately airing the ball down the field to redshirt freshman forward Alyssa Moore at the opening whistle. Moore maneuvered past the only Mustang defender in her path and sent a sharp cross just as the opposing keeper came out to challenge her. Irvine junior midfielder Scarlett Camberos tried to corral the ball for a shot, but it slipped away for a Cal Poly goal kick.
The Mustangs rallied after their successful play and began playing their brand of soccer, utilizing a suffocating level of control. Led by sophomore midfielder Camille Lafaix, Cal Poly consistently fed the ball to their forwards, preventing the Anteaters from advancing.
Irvine’s best offensive opportunities came from the throw-in. Each time the ball went out of bounds on the Mustangs’ end of the field, Irvine junior midfielder Amber Huff sent it flying toward the Cal Poly goal.
Huff’s attack bore fruit in the 31st minute when she delivered a high-arcing ball toward Camberos, who attempted to head the ball into the goal. After a number of ricochets, the disoriented defenders cleared the ball right to Irvine junior forward Alex Jaquez, who then scored a goal.
“In my head, I just said, ‘keep it low,’ and it went in. The whole season, my goal has been to score at least one goal, and it was nice it was in this game,” Jaquez later said.
After the score, the game turned into a grueling grind. UCI’s head coach later commented on the game’s tension.
“That was the most competitive game we’ve had to play 90 minutes in. From start to finish, there was no room to breathe,”UCI head coach Scott Juniper said.
This situation became increasingly tense when the biggest stars on each team were knocked out of the game with gruesome injuries. Irvine junior defender Maddy Chavez, who has been named Big West Defensive Player of the Year, fell in the 60th minute after being spiked in the head. She exited the field with her face half-covered in blood. Lafaix also suffered a fall, sustaining an injury to her hip. She soon limped off the field with the assistance of Cal Poly’s trainer.
Both teams pushed with passion during the waning minutes, but it was to no avail. The score stood firm at 1-0. As the final minute drew to a close, the match’s thick tension immediately lifted as the Anteaters jubilantly rushed together, singing and embracing with wild abandon to celebrate their championship title.
Big West Commissioner Dan Butterly presented the trophy to the ‘Eaters, now clad in fresh “Big West Champions” t-shirts and hats. The team danced and cheered with their fans, taking turns holding the trophy and basking in the moment.
“I’m super proud of my squad … they were warriors,” Juniper said, pants still soggy from a triumphant Gatorade bath.
While the smiling Anteaters couldn’t contain their joy, they also knew that this wasn’t the end of their season just yet.
Sophomore midfielder Gianna Creighton commented on their upcoming match in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re going to play a big school, and that’s exciting,” Creighton said.
Jaquez echoed Creighton’s statement, expressing her confidence in going into the tournament.
“I know what we’re capable of and I know we can match that energy,” Jaquez said.
The UC Irvine Women’s Soccer team will be playing in the NCAA tournament starting on Nov. 12, with match and location details yet to be released.
Benjamin Hendricks is a Sports Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.