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Anteaters' rise spurs even loftier goals

UCI has lofty aspirations coming off 19-3-2 season, Big West crown and first NCAA Tournament trip.

August 18, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com

After a breakthrough season that included a trip to the Sweet 16 in the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance, as well as a school single-season record of 19 victories, one might wonder what the UC Irvine women's soccer team can do for an encore.

Predictably, fifth-year coach Scott Juniper has an answer at the ready.

"We can beat anyone," said the 2010 West Region and Big West Conference Coach of the Year, who returns seven starters from a team that posted an unprecedented perfect Big West regular-season record of 8-0 on its way to a 19-3-2 finish.

"Last year, we refused to step on the field without believing we could win a game. The players know that now. This year, we have four top-25 opponents and the players are fired up for every single one of them."

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Stanford (ranked No. 1 in the Soccer America preseason poll), Portland (No. 11), Santa Clara (No. 17) and Texas A&M (No. 22) represent the aforementioned premium competition for the No. 20-ranked Anteaters, whose willingness to take on highly touted foes allowed them to net just seven regular-season home games.

"We've had to go on the road to get the games we wanted to play," said Juniper, whose team opens Friday at 1:30 p.m. against Texas-San Antonio in the Texas A&M Invitational in College Station. "We're trying to raise the level of teams we are playing against and we want a schedule that is exciting for our whole team and ensures that their experience as competitive soccer players is nourished."

UCI fortified itself last season by outscoring opponents, 49-18, posting 11 shutouts and allowing more than one goal in only two of its final 20 games (winning on both of those occasions).

Tanya Taylor, a third-team All-American who led the Big West with 11 goals and 12 assists, is one of four starters who have moved on. The Big West Offensive Player of the Year led the way last season, along with senior goalkeeper Danielle de Seriere, who played every minute and posted an 0.69 goals-against average.

The returners are led by preseason All-American defender CoCo Goodson, the Big West Defensive Player of the Year who became the program's initial first-team All-American last season. Goodson, a transfer from Texas, scored nine goals in her first season at UCI. She had five game-winning goals and finished with 18 points.

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