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Men's Soccer: 'Eaters elevate schedule

UCI set to face four teams in preseason top 11, but has more cushy division opponents in Big West.

August 22, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
  • UC Irvine sophomore Cameron Iwasa, left, personifies the determination displayed by younger Anteaters, according to Coach George Kuntz.
UC Irvine sophomore Cameron Iwasa, left, personifies… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

One could argue that geography worked against the UC Irvine men's soccer program when it fell into the newly created four-team South Division of the Big West Conference this season. But with an ambitious, some might say imposing schedule that includes road games at four of the top 11 teams in the national preseason coaches' poll, Anteaters Coach George Kuntz has proved that when it comes to finding top-flight competition, UCI knows no boundaries.

No. 13-ranked UCI has averaged 15 wins the last four seasons, during which it has won three conference regular-season and three conference tournament titles and made three NCAA Tournament appearances.

But since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2008, Kuntz's club has lost its two NCAA Tournament contests, both second-round matches in 2011 and 2009.

A suspect schedule and a first-round conference-tournament loss in 2010 led to an NCAA snub. It also may have contributed to the 2012 schedule that includes No. 2-ranked UCLA, No. 6 New Mexico and No. 7 Louisville, to go with Big West rival UC Santa Barbara, ranked No. 11.

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Kuntz said the nonconference heavyweights may help offset a Big West South Division in which UCI is the clear favorite. Joining UCI in the South are Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside.

The North Division, meanwhile groups UCSB, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Sacramento State and UC Davis.

"The North is really tough," said Kuntz, whose team will play each South rival twice, while meeting each North school only once. "Then, the winner of the South plays the No. 2 team from the North and the No. 1 from the North plays the No. 2 team from the South [in the conference tournament semifinals]."

UCI, which opens the season Friday at the University of San Diego, will visit UCLA on Sept. 9, trek to New Mexico on Sept. 16 and venture to Louisville on Oct. 24. It's regular-season battle at UCSB is Oct. 5.

The Anteaters return first-team all-conference defender Everett Pitts, a third-year starter, to anchor a defense that lost four-year starting goalkeeper Andrew Fontein, the 2011 Big West Goalkeeper of the Year who is UCI's all-time leader with 29 career shutouts.

Junior defender Marco Franco also returns after earning second-team all-conference laurels in 2011, when UCI finished 16-6-1, 6-3-1 in conference.

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