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UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : OCC Transfer Earns His Keep on Soccer Team

It was not a particularly auspicious debut. And talk about bad omens. P.J. Polowski, the Anteater soccer team’s hope for an offense this season, hit the post on three shots that deflected away from the goal as Fresno State beat Irvine, 4-0, in the season opener.

Three weeks later, Coach Derek Lawther is still shaking his head about poor fortunes. Polowski, however, was unfazed.

“Unlucky breaks, good breaks, I don’t know,” Polowski said, “Hitting the post is one thing. I personally feel I have to put it on the net.”

Polowski, a junior transfer from Orange Coast College, has done a lot of that lately. He scored three goals in one game--only the fourth hat trick in Irvine history--and leads the 3-5 Anteaters with five goals and an assist.

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Polowski will argue that he is not a one-man show and feels no burden of carrying the offense. But Lawther, who lost Irvine’s top two all-time scorers from last year’s team to graduation, put most of his scholarship egg money in Polowski’s basket and he’s not afraid to apply the pressure.

“It had been a bit of lean year for recruiting and we needed somebody to replace the seniors I lost,” Lawther said. “So, P.J.'s been a breath of fresh air. We have two captains, but everyone looks to P.J., I know they do.

“He’s extremely fast and very skillful and he’s doing a lot on his own, unassisted things. But he’s also a team player. He doesn’t hog it unless he’s one-on-one. And he has the best endurance on the team.”

He’d better.

“He plays the whole game,” Lawther said. “I never sub him. I can’t afford to sub him. If an opponent wants to shut us down, they shut down him. That’s not a great position to be in, but that’s it.”

Polowski, who chose Irvine over Fresno State and UC Santa Barbara because he thought Irvine offered the best education, has a different perspective from his spot on the left wing.

“In a way, I do feel some pressure because I’m getting most of my education paid for and I want to be able to give something back,” he said. “I worked really hard before the season so I could come into practice and be able to show Derek that he made the right choice.

“I came here to play soccer, so I want to be the best I can be. But that’s more of a motivating factor than pressure. And on the field, I look to our defense to get us going. I think the defense gets me going more than I get anyone else going.”

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Polowski, who helped OCC win the State championship as a freshman, is a bit of a late bloomer, according to Lawther. He was Fountain Valley High’s most valuable player as a senior, but Polowski says he didn’t begin to take soccer seriously until after high school.

“I had a club coach who sort of gave me a new view of the game,” he said. “I always loved soccer, but he showed me how I could approach the game differently. Before, I was just going through the motions.”

Somewhere along the way, Polowski gained full control of his 6-foot 4-inch, 190-pound frame and matured into a force to be reckoned with on a soccer field.

“We’ve known about P.J. for four years and people always said he was a great player,” Lawther said. “But I never thought he was that great. He never really stood out.

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“I never much noticed him when he was playing against boys. But now he’s certainly getting noticed playing against men.”

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Soccer Fever? Youth soccer is more popular than ever in Orange County. The World Cup is coming. Irvine’s soccer teams are now playing night games under the brilliant lights of what used to be the baseball stadium.

And the crowds are, well . . . trickling in.

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“We used to play in the afternoon and nobody but parents would be there,” Lawther said. “Having night games is a big plus, but we’ve had pretty lean crowds so far. I think we should be able to draw 600 to 800 easily.”

The men’s team played its four night home games before the fall semester began, however, and students weren’t yet on campus.

Wednesday, the Anteaters will have the soccer version of a twi-night doubleheader. The women’s team, which beat University of the Pacific, 8-1, Saturday to improve their record to 6-2, will play host to Loyola Marymount at 5 p.m., followed by the men’s team against Loyola Marymount at 7.

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Happy faces: Dan Guerrero, on the job nine months now, is the first Irvine athletic director in years able to walk the halls of the athletic administration building without eliciting glares.

The latest budget actually included small increases for most sports and--because coaches have become expert at slicing operational budgets--the additional revenue can be used toward scholarships, which means more talent, a coach’s best friend.

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Not-so-happy faces: Attention men’s basketball players. Take note of this quote from Coach Rod Baker in the school’s 1993-94 basketball prospectus: “I took a little too much for granted last year. I’m back to the point where I don’t care if these guys like me. My responsibility is to put them in the position to win games.”

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Anteater Notes

Marcus Carroll has been named an assistant women’s basketball coach, Coach Colleen Matsuhara announced Monday. Carroll was an assistant at Grambling State University last season. . . . The men’s tennis team is ranked No. 25 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Assn. preseason rankings. The Anteaters were 11-11 in dual meets last season and finished 25th in the rankings. . . . The golf team opens its season Monday in the Grand Canyon Invitational in Casa Grande, Ariz. . . . Goalkeeper Amee Chapman, who has allowed just one goal in eight games this season, is the top-ranked goalie in the Western Region and No. 4 nationally with a .22 goals-against average.


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