IRVINE — In its effort to get off on the right foot Friday night, the UC Irvine women's soccer team relied heavily on the timely contributions of a fist.
Senior goalkeeper Danielle de Seriere supplied the necessary punch to propel the host Anteaters to a 2-1 victory in the nonconference season opener in front of a crowd of 810 at Anteater Stadium.
The veteran keeper leaped to punch away two would-be goals, including a potential equalizer in the final minute. And though denied her 21st career shutout when the Vandals cut the deficit in half with a nifty connection in the 60th minute, de Seriere's four saves were only a portion of the difference made by her right fist.
She also threw her knuckles into a bending corner kick to earn her second career assist on what turned out to be the winning goal in the 40th minute. The punch directed the bounding ball up the center of the field. Before it reached midfield, junior Alexis Rafael — just as she had in several spring training sessions with de Seriere — fielded it on the run.
Idaho goalie Liz Boyden charged out to try to thwart the breakaway, but Rafael sidestepped her and nailed the ball into an open net from about 40 yards in front.
Rafael's tally, the first of her career, put the hosts up, 2-0.
"I knew on the corner kick that I had to come out and punch it out," de Seriere said. "As a keeper, you have to be quick off your line. I'll add that assist to the one I got last year. That's our little partnership between Alexis and I, because we worked out together last spring.
"When you're in traffic, you definitely want to punch [the ball] out. If you get hit, the ball is out of your hands. That first save, I was a little nervous about it. But I kept my feet moving and I was able to get to it."
Perhaps de Seriere came in most handy for the Anteaters in the final minute, when she backpedalled to her left, jumped and punched an arcing shot just over the crossbar to protect the lead.
"On the last save there, you have to come up clutch in the end," de Seriere said. "If they would have scored there, it would have been tied and gone into overtime."
UCI, which posted a 13-7 advantage in shots, wasted little time applying offensive pressure.
Just 40 seconds in, sophomore Devon Delarosa, who ranks third on the list of the top scorers back from last year's squad, blasted a shot from about 20 yards in front that forced Boyden to make a diving save.
Delarosa, who had four goals and five assists in 2009, beat Boyden from just inside the 18-yard box in the 30th minute to open the scoring. She converted an opportunity produced by Tanya Taylor and Dana Sanderlin, both of whom were credited with an assist on the play.
"It was a very passionate game for the first 20 minutes," UCI Coach Scott Juniper said. "It was an opening game for both teams. Anyone can bring that kind of sprit for the first 20 minutes, but as the first half went on, we really got into the game and I think we were very deserving of our 2-0 lead."
But Idaho was also deserving of credit, Juniper said, for battling back and nearly erasing that lead.
The second half was just scrappy," Juniper said. "We just couldn't get the ball down and get a flow going. I thought [the Vandals] did a really good job of getting their tackles in.
"We conceded too many free kicks and when you do that, you always leave yourself open to another team just dumping the ball into our 18-yard box, and it's very difficult to defend. I'm very proud of our team for staying focused on those, and making sure we were able to clear those out."
Seven Anteaters produced shots, including at least two by Delarosa, Nikki Forrest, Lexi Kopf, Sanderlin and Judy Christopher.
Juniper had particular praise for freshman defender Jordan Bruce, who handled the majority of her team's corner kicks and also stood out on the back line.
"I thought Jordan Bruce played like a senior tonight," Juniper said. "I don't think she put a foot wrong. She connected her passes, she made great decisions and she physically dominated her opponent. She really was a standout."
The big crowd was another positive, de Seriere said.
"I think both sides were hard-working," de Seriere said. "We just had the momentum, it being a home opener. And there was a huge fan base out here. It was awesome."
It could be the start of something big for the Anteaters, their goalkeeper and tri-captain said.
"The talent on this team has really improved," de Seriere said. "The fire's there. I think we're ready to go after it and win a Big West [conference] championship."