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'Eaters' season ends

UCI bested in double-overtime by visiting Saint Mary's in second round of NCAA men's soccer tournament.

November 20, 2011|By Barry Faulkner

IRVINE — There was a time when UC Irvine men's soccer players and coaches would have taken consolation in winning the Big West Conference regular-season and tournament titles, then not catching a break in the NCAA Tournament.

But it speaks to the progress that the recent frequency of those accomplishments has created that those days no longer exist.

So it was that after the Anteaters lost, 2-1, in the second overtime of their NCAA second-round match against visiting Saint Mary's on Sunday, UCI Coach George Kuntz delivered this news to his heartbroken team.

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"One of the things I just talked about with the team was, 'This isn't good enough,' " said Kuntz, whose team (16-6-1), the No. 8 national seed, would have been at home against Brown in the round of 16, had it advanced past the Gaels (10-6-5). "For our program, we want to be in the final four teams and then let's see what happens. Our goal is to be national champion.

"So, for us, for the younger guys, it was great work by the older guys, by the seniors, great groundwork laid by teams before us. But for us to be really nationally recognized, we have to be able to overcome these types of games, with whoever it is. We were at home."

Kuntz said Saint Mary's brought a type of physical play that contrasts with UCI's more technical approach.

"In [the first half] they took out our two leading scorers [senior Miguel Ibarra left in the 13th minute with left-leg injury and senior Christian Hernandez exited in the 38th minute with an unspecified leg injury] and it didn't make for a pretty game," Kuntz said.

And while the first half finished scoreless and both Ibarra, the Big West Co-Offensive Player of the Year, and Hernandez, a first-team all-conference performer, returned to start the second half, Kuntz said the absence of a duo that had produced 15 goals and 18 assists coming in, clearly depleted his team.

"I think there was a little drop-off when those two got hurt," Kuntz said. "We lost a little momentum right there and it made a difference. We got into halftime and it was tied, but we end up chasing the game in the second half, instead of leading and being ahead. When teams are chasing the game, it changes the way they play and it opens them up, because they have to score. I think we weren't effective in those moments. I think it shook our guys up to see two of our oldest guys out of the game. And we didn't know if they were coming back in, so there was a lot of uncertainty there. It was difficult."

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