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UCI seeking solid footing

SOCCER: Anteaters return all but one starter with the goal of erasing the disappointment of last-place finish in ’07.

August 21, 2008|By Barry Faulkner

In most cases, an overnight trip to Santa Barbara is a refreshing, restorative experience that is relished by those Southern Californians who make the drive north.

But don’t expect UC Irvine men’s soccer coach George Kuntz to provide a complimentary quote for the coastal community’s tourism brochure.

It was a two-day journey to Santa Barbara that adversely altered the Anteaters’ 2007 season for good, as a 4-0 loss to the then-defending NCAA champion Gauchos, in a game televised nationally by the Fox Soccer Channel, began a 1-8-3 slide, all against conference foes. That virtually erased a 5-0-0 start that produced a No. 25 national ranking.

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“I think we started out with a false sense of security and the chemistry was pretty good,” Kuntz said. “Then we hit a couple of speed bumps with some adversity from within and some adversity during games and we did not deal with it well.”

Kuntz, whose 14th season begins with a home exhibition game against Division II Cal State San Bernardino Sunday at 7:30 p.m., said he expects 2008 to go much better.

“It’s a totally different team this year,” said Kuntz, who has encouraged his players to forget last season, which included a last-place finish in the seven-team Big West Conference. “Last year, we only had three seniors and only one of those started [defender Brandon Foster]. This year, we have seven seniors, who make up a much stronger core.”

UCI is picked to finish fifth in the preseason conference coaches poll, which identifies UCSB as the favorite to earn its sixth straight Big West crown.

The returners, including midfielder Matt Murphy and defender David Sias, both second-team all-conference honorees a year ago, produced all but one goal and three assists from last year’s team total.

Murphy, the Anteaters’ leading scorer the last two years (he was Big West Midfielder of the Year as a sophomore), produced nine goals and two assists, more than doubling the point total of the second-most productive UCI scorer in 2007.

Murphy enters this season ranked sixth in UCI career annals in points (55) and goals (22), and his seven game-winning goals have been bettered by only two players in the program’s history.

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