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UCI NOTEBOOK : Wait Is Worth It to This Anteater Runner

Aaron Mascorro finished second at the Big West Conference cross-country championships two years ago, but last season he stood by and watched while UC Irvine’s men won the conference title without him.

Mascorro wasn’t injured, and he wasn’t ineligible.

He was waiting.

Now Mascorro is back for his senior season after choosing to red-shirt last year, and Irvine’s team, a year stronger and more experienced, hopes to challenge for the type of national success that has become almost routine for the women’s team.

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By saving his final year of eligibility, Mascorro helped Irvine stack its team for this year. In the meantime, the only runner in last year’s top seven who isn’t back is . . . “No one,” Mascorro said.

Everyone is back.

So Irvine’s men, who have competed in the NCAA championship meet only twice, in 1986 and ’87, now have an outstanding chance to go again.

"(Choosing to red-shirt) was a decision to have a national team. That’s what we think we have now,” Mascorro said. “We figured--I figured, it was mainly my idea--to sit out and wait and just have a really good team this year.”

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Now Irvine has a team so deep that it doesn’t much matter if one of the top runners has a difficult race. Last weekend, Irvine’s men and women swept the titles at the Fresno State Invitational, with the men winning by 38 points, even though Mascorro felt ill during the race and dropped back to 14th.

It didn’t much matter. Rob Price, a sophomore and one of the runners whose year of experience will be important to the team, finished third, covering the five-mile course in 25 minutes 5.9 seconds. Sophomore Mike Nielsen was seventh, senior David Hesseltine was 11th and junior Brian Hild was 13th.

“If this first meet shows anything, we had a really good bunching,” Mascorro said. “We have a team now. Someone could have to pull out of a race, and someone else will be there.

“We figured if I would have dropped out, our sixth man still would have been able to win it. That’s what I mean by having a strong team. If I drop out, or anyone else does, someone will still be able to pick up.”

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As for Mascorro competing for the Big West individual title--he finished second two years ago--it is still a bit early to handicap the field.

“The person who won the Fresno State Invitational (Jamie Harris) is in our conference,” Mascorro said. “The next person would be Rob Price, then our guys. The one guy is at Fresno State. That’s about it. Of course, I have competition from our own team.”

Traci Goodrich, who made the NCAA track championships in the 10,000 meters last season, took the women’s individual title at Fresno in 17:25.3 over 5,000 meters.

“Traci is for real,” said Vince O’Boyle, coach of the men’s and women’s cross-country teams. “It is nice to see someone who works so hard do well. She ran nearly 32 seconds faster on that course than a year ago.”

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When the men’s soccer team won the Cal State Fullerton tournament championship Sunday, it was the first title in the program’s nine-year history. The team’s 3-1 record is the best start in program history as well.

Coach Derek Lawther is pleased, but cautions against overreaction.

“I don’t expect to go the whole way or anything, I expect us to have a winning season,” Lawther said.

Irvine’s record last season: 5-14-2.

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“We’re doing a little better than we did last year,” Lawther said. “I think we have a little more talent.”

He’s referring to newcomers Ryan Tinsley, a transfer from Irvine Valley College who went to El Toro High School, and Juan Strutton, a freshman from Laguna Hills High School, as well as senior Erik Nasarenko, who sat out with injuries last season and was not expected to play this season.

Plus, John O’Brien is now a sophomore, after being named first-team All-Big West last year. Lawther also points to Brian Wilson, a senior center fullback he calls “outstanding.”

Kevin Smith, a senior who is second on the school’s all-time scoring list, is leading the team with one goal and three assists.

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Irvine’s only conference victory last season came against Fullerton.

“We play Fullerton (tonight), so even though we beat the teams Fullerton beat (in the tournament), we know it will be like dog eat dog,” Lawther said.

After having extreme troubles on offense early last season, the women’s soccer team has scored eight goals in its first five games, compared to zero at this point last season.

The team needed new blood, and got it. The two leading scorers are both freshmen: Shawna Berke, who has two goals and three assists, and Molly Lynch, who has two goals and an assist.

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The team is 2-2-1.

Stat of the Week: The women’s volleyball team ranked first in the nation in digs with 26.83 per game after the first week of the season. That stat was boosted by a school-record 146 digs in a five-game match loss to Cal State Northridge Sept. 7.

Irvine (3-3) does not play this week, resuming with a match against host Cal State Fullerton Sept. 25.

Irvine’s Pablo Yrizar led the entire tournament field with 14 goals during the UCI water polo tournament last weekend, including the winning goal against Pepperdine in sudden death.

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Irvine finished fifth, with its only defeat against second-place UCLA, which relegated the Anteaters to the losers’ bracket.

In national rankings released Tuesday, Irvine is fourth, behind tournament champion California, UCLA and Cal State Long Beach. Stanford is fifth, followed by Pepperdine and USC.

Water polo’s national rankings are split into Eastern and Western divisions, but the Western is acknowledged to be superior.

Shurrell Johnson, who played for the women’s basketball team from 1986-90, has been named a student assistant coach by Colleen Matsuhara, who is preparing for her first season as Irvine’s head coach.

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