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HomeSportsSoccerUC Irvine Women’s Soccer Falls to Wisconsin, 0-3, Ending their NCAA Playoff...

UC Irvine Women’s Soccer Falls to Wisconsin, 0-3, Ending their NCAA Playoff Run

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The UC Irvine Women’s Soccer team (16-6-0, 8-2-0) was defeated by the University of Wisconsin Badgers (10-5-6, 3-3-4), 3-0, at George Mason Stadium in Virginia on Friday, Nov. 19. This crushing defeat knocks the Anteaters out of the NCAA tournament and ends arguably the best season in the program’s history.

The Badgers came out strong from the starting whistle, applying a shocking amount of offensive pressure during the opening minutes. The Wisconsin midfielders kept the ball on the Anteaters’ half and consistently advanced the ball downfield for essential offensive opportunities. 

In the 22nd minute, UCI freshman forward Desiree Mendoza was called for a foul just outside the box while attempting to stop one of these opportunities. As a result, a free-kick was gifted to Wisconsin’s senior midfielder Natalie Viggiano, who arced a ball around the Anteater wall and into the net, 1-0 Badgers. 

This goal put an end to Irvine’s record shutout streak of over 500 minutes within their last five games. Shaken up, the UCI defense had no time to gather themselves before Wisconsin was once again on the attack.

After a Badger takeaway, Viggiano bolted down the left side of the field. Narrowly eluding the ‘Eater defenders, she sent a flat cross right in front of the Anteater goal, which freshman forward Joyelle Washington tapped in, 2-0.

Any Irvine attempt to mount a comeback was dead in the water. Simply put, the ‘Eaters were unable to maintain possession of the ball. Passing lanes evaporated in split seconds as the aggressive Badger midfielders hunted the ball with preternatural instinct.

Wisconsin’s physical advantage was a main reason behind the success of this ultra-aggressive plan. Every footrace, physical entanglement or kick proved that the Anteaters were outmatched.

For the entirety of her season, Irvine junior midfielder Scarlett Camberos struck fear in the hearts of opposing defenders with her game-changing speed and agility. Yet, the Badger backs made her achievements look humdrum. With their offensive core unable to use her greatest weapon, the rest of the Irvine attack sputtered.  

As the Anteaters emerged from the halftime break, the new ‘Eater strategy seemed to be to meet the Badger physicality with pure energy.

Every member of the team fought with renewed effort and dogged determination. A symphony of crafty tackles, smart passing and pure physicality followed in the succeeding minutes.

The Badgers weathered the storm and leaned on their staunch defense to keep the ‘Eaters at bay. Wisconsin head coach Paula Wilkins stuck to her game plan and let the clock run dry.

In the 70th minute, the Badgers landed their killing blow.

The Irvine defense swarmed Wisconsin senior midfielder Maia Cella as she ran toward the goal in a final attempt to stop the Wisconsin offenders. Still, Cella weaved her way through defenders until UCI redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Glo Hinojosa cleared the ball. As the Anteaters took a breath of relief, Badger junior defender Izzy Verdugo battered the ball back towards the net. With Hinojosa far out of goal, Verdugo put it away, 3-0.

The game expired in short order, though the ‘Eaters gave it their all until the final horn.

Though it ended in disappointment, the season was great for the UCI Women’s Soccer team. Winning Big West Championships and defeating the mighty Bruins on their home turf are not easy feats and will not be forgotten. With that, next year looks bright for the Anteaters, especially with stars like Camberos and junior defender Maddy Chavez returning for their senior seasons. 

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