Danielle de Seriere can't stop smiling.
The senior goalkeeper is one of many reasons the UC Irvine women's soccer team is off to an 8-1-2 start and has earned the program's first national ranking.
And de Seriere said Monday during taping for the year's first edition of the Blue & Gold Report radio program that she was anything but indifferent about the Anteaters' noteworthy opening.
"It's awesome," said de Seriere, who has posted four shutouts to help Coach Scott Juniper's squad outscore teams, 25-11, this season. "I'm so excited."
UCI has generated excitement among some pollsters, as it was ranked No. 23 by Soccer America on Monday. The 'Eaters, who have won five straight and are unbeaten in their last eight, heading into Friday's Big West Conference opener against visiting Pacific at 7 p.m., are also ranked No. 3 in the West Region by the National Soccer Coaches Assn. of America.
UCI has outscored foes, 20-6, during the recent unbeaten streak and bested foes by a combined 10-2 margin during the five-game winning streak.
Juniper's squad has beaten San Diego and Oregon State, both ranked No. 17 at the time, and also tied then-No. 14-ranked Cal.
Senior forward Tanya Taylor leads the offense with six goals and three assists, while junior forward Lexi Kopf has chipped in four goals and one assist.
Sophomore midfielder Mar Rodriguez (three goals and one assist) was named MVP of the four-team Anteater Invitational, which UCI won Sunday after producing its second win in as many tournament contests.
Rodriguez, a member of the Under-20 Mexican national team that competed in the U-20 World Cup over the summer in Germany, has eight career goals. Six of those have been game-winners.
Rodriguez and others, including returning first-team all-conference junior midfielder Judy Christopher, have helped UCI bolster its collective confidence, de Seriere said.
"Everyone has the same mentality," she said. "We all want to win the Big West. We're playing for each other and there are no cliques on this team. I tell our defenders 'If we are not scored upon, we're going to be national champions.' Everything has changed from last year."
Taylor, Christopher and sophomore Alexis Rafael joined de Seriere on the all-tournament team over the weekend.
UCI plays host to UC Davis Sunday at 1 p.m. and visits Long Beach State on Oct. 21 at 3 p.m.
"We're going after them this year," de Seriere said of the Mustangs and the Titans. "The seniors believe we're going to beat them this year."
A successful conference run, including the four-team postseason conference tournament, could allow UCI to earn its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
"We have the talent to play in the NCAA Tournament," said de Seriere, who with eight regular-season games remaining in her career, would like to add to her four shutouts this season, which have upped her career total to 24, second-most in school history. Her 0.89 goals-against average ranks No. 1 in UCI annals.
The UCI men's team (7-1), ranked No. 9 by College Soccer News, has been even more stingy on defense this season, blanking opponents in each of their seven victories thus far. The Anteaters are ranked No. 1 in the West Region.
Junior goalkeeper Andrew Fontein anchored a pair of shutouts over the weekend at the UNLV Rebel Classic in Las Vegas.
Fontein, who is from Las Vegas, helped Coach George Kuntz's Anteaters earn matching 4-0 wins over Cal State Bakersfield and UNLV.
Before thumping the host Rebels Sunday, Fontein hosted a team gathering at his uncle's house.
UCI, which has outscored teams, 21-2, this season, is led offensively by senior forwards Spencer Thompson and Amani Walker, both of whom have four goals and two assists.
The 'Eaters have received goals from 11 different players, including three of the four backline starters. Senior defender Corey Attaway, who shares captain duties with senior defensive midfielder Gray Bailey, has three goals this season, all game-winners.
UC Riverside visits Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the conference opener.
Vanguard University is also off to strong starts in men's and women's soccer.
The men are 6-0-1 and ranked No. 5 in the NAIA. They opened Golden State Athletic Conference play by beating host Azusa Pacific, 3-2, Saturday.
The No. 8-ranked women (6-1-2) opened GSAC play with a 1-1 tie at APU on Saturday.
Both teams are coached by Randy Dodge.*