IRVINE — Despite a 19-2-2 record that includes the program's first Big West Conference regular-season title, the consensus believed that UC Irvine was still peering from behind the curtain that led to the national women's soccer stage.
But after posting a 2-0 second-round victory over visiting Wake Forest on Sunday, the Anteaters, arguably still pinching themselves from earning the program's first NCAA Tournament invitation, are hardly blushing under the glare of an increasingly brilliant spotlight.
Senior forward Tanya Taylor produced an artful unassisted goal in the 12th minute, then collected an assist on junior CoCo Goodson's clinching goal in the 71st minute to propel Coach Scott Juniper's squad into the round of 16.
The next test will be Washington (12-8-2) which visits Saturday at 6 p.m. But if Sunday's commanding clean sheet against the Demon Deacons is any indication, the Anteaters don't figure to be either awed, or outclassed by the Huskies, who slipped past No. 2 national seed Portland in penalty kicks Sunday.
"The words are big and bright in our locker room and the girls see it everyday," Juniper said. "Anyone, anywhere, any time. It's the way we train everyday. It doesn't matter who, when or where, we bring our [best] competitive effort. Today, it was the Atlantic Coast Conference champions. But we'll play anyone, and not just play, but be ready to compete.
"We decided the tempo of the game. We managed the tempo and the rhythm … When we had a player sent off [freshman Zuri Walker received a red-card ejection seconds after the second goal], we changed our shape, but we were still the aggressor."
Juniper acknowledged there are sure to be those who still doubt the strength of his emerging program.
"We still hear [the doubters]," Juniper said. "I don't know when that's going to stop, but we just beat the ACC champions, so we'll just let those wins speak for themselves."
Added Goodson: "The ACC is a big name in soccer. It's the best conference in the nation, I would say. We thought it was a big deal playing an ACC team. We knew we were up against the best and we knew we had to bring our best."
It was the 16th win in 17 games for UCI, which fell to Washington, 3-2, in overtime at UCI last season.
Midfielders Judy Christopher and Alyssa Humphrey, forward Lexi Kopf, and sophomore defender Zoya Farzaneh, filling in for Nikki Forrest (concussion) also sparkled for UCI.