'Eaters granted invite

The roar was spontaneous, proud, thankful and historic Monday afternoon, when the UC Irvine women's soccer team learned it would be competing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

The Anteaters (17-2-2), who won the program's first Big West Conference regular-season championship, needed one of 34 at-large bids into the 64-team field, after falling, 1-0, in the Big West Tournament final Sunday to Long Beach State.

UCI, which was ranked No. 7 last week and had an RPI of 22, will play host to Arizona State (9-7-3) in the first round Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Wake Forest (12-7-3) will play the University of San Diego (11-7-2) at UCI Friday at 5 p.m. Friday's two winners will then meet Sunday at UCI at 2 p.m.

"I didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night," UCI Coach Scott Juniper said after players, coaches and staff members witnessed the televised announcement of the tournament field at the student center on campus. "In my mind, had we won [Sunday], we had an outside chance of hosting. But I thought that had slipped away with the [loss to Long Beach State]. Wow. What an occasion that's going to be Friday."

It will be yet another first in a landmark season for the Anteaters, who saw their streak of 14 straight wins and 17 matches without a loss end against the 49ers, who earned the conference's automatic NCAA berth with the victory.

"It was a huge relief," said UCI goalkeeper Danielle de Seriere, who is among four senior starters who have worked to turn around a program that went 3-13-1 and was outscored, 41-6, including 22-0 in seven conference games, in 2006, the season before they enrolled. "We've never been to the tournament and the fact that we get to host is just awesome.

"It has been a lot of hard work over the last four years for us seniors [who include forward Tanya Taylor and defenders Alyssa Humphrey and Nikki Forrest]. We've just been building and building and, finally, we've made it. We've always wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament and now that it's here, it's really exciting."

Junior defender CoCo Goodson, whose eight goals this season include five game-winners, was singled out by ESPN analyst and former U.S. women's national team star Julie Foudy during the broadcast Monday.

"I was excited that our name was called and then that we were hosting," said Goodson, a transfer from Texas in her first season at a UCI. "Then, Julie Foudy said my name and it was like, Wow. That's huge having that big of a name say my name. It's very humbling and I was honored."

The Anteaters said they are honored to make the field, but more relieved than surprised. And Juniper said his players enter their first NCAA Tournament brimming with confidence.

"Goodness, we had a 14-game winning streak and a lot of those were tight, but we were able to win in different fashions," said Juniper, in his fourth season. "We know we can win games in lots of different ways. There's a lot of confidence in this team, but it's based on real solid experienced that we've had this year."

Goodson, who competed in the tournament as a freshman at Texas, said she was unaware when she came to UCI that the school had never received an NCAA bid.

"I think it was around the time we were 6-0 [in conference] and people were saying 'We actually have a shot of going further than we've ever gone before,' " said Goodson, who trails only Taylor (a conference-best 10 goals and nine assists) among UCI scorers. "I said, 'Wait, UCI has never been to the NCAAs? That's crazy.' So, to be doing this is incredible."

Other UCI standouts include junior defender Judy Christopher, junior forward Lexi Kopf, sophomore midfielders Mar Rodriguez, Dana Sanderlin and Devon Delarosa, and sophomore defender Sarah Devine.

UCI, blanked for the only time this season on Sunday, despite posting an 11-5 advantage in shots, has outscored opponents, 45-16, this season.

UCI opened its 2009 season with a 2-0 loss at Arizona State in a game called in the 72nd minute due to concern over lightning in the area.

"[The Sun Devils] bullied us in that game at Arizona State, but this is a much tougher [UCI] team this year," Juniper said. "I think we were beaten by a lightning siren at a nearby golf course and I think some of our players were disappointed we didn't get a full [90-minute] shot. I feel like there was unfinished business."

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