Goodson back on line

There are many facets to CoCo Goodson.

There is the soft-spoken California girl who is quick with a smile, who is festooned with bracelets made by friends and loved ones that are attached more to her heart than the wrists on which they reside.

There is also the teeth-clinching competitor who grinds between the sidelines, who curtly instructs whining opponents to "shut up," and who would rather walk home from the tennis court steamed than ride in a car with a family member guilty of a questionable call on match point.

There are also the separate soccer incarnations.

There is the reluctant target forward whose size, strength and booming shot helped her share the team scoring lead as a freshman at Texas in 2008, when she was the Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year.

And there is the ubiquitous center defender now starring for UC Irvine, who doesn't so much shut down strikers as lord over an opponent's entire attack. Her field vision helps her launch rockets to target forwards, while retaining explosive productivity as both a trigger and aerial flash point for set pieces.

In her first season with the No. 16-ranked Anteaters (19-2-2), whose historic season continues in the NCAA Tournament round of 16 against visiting Washington (12-8-2) tonight at 6, Goodson said she has comfortably reconciled the latter dichotomous descriptions. She has, she'll tell you through the sunshine smile, as golden as her tightly bound blonde hair, found peace on the pitch, once again.

"I kind of lost my love for the sport at Texas, just because it was more of a job than fun," said Goodson, the Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year whose five game-winning goals lead the conference and whose nine goals rank second in the Big West only to teammate Tanya Taylor (11). "Here [at UCI] last spring, it became fun again. I found the joy in soccer again and that was a huge deal for me."

Goodson helped lead Cathedral Catholic High to CIF San Diego Section championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and was, at 14, the youngest recruit ever to set foot in the office of then-UCI coach April Heinrichs.

But eventually, Goodson, after a coaching change caused her to rescind her verbal commitment to Cal, chose Texas over Tennessee, intent on joining a big-time athletic program in a nationally renowned college town.

At Texas, however, she grew homesick, found herself preferring time in class to that on the practice field, and she discovered that her intuitive play had given way to a more robotic approach. All this formed the realization that she needed a change.

She had played on club teams with Anteaters Judy Christopher, Sarah Devine and Devon Delarosa, and, after quizzing her former teammates about the personality and coaching acumen of UCI head man Scott Juniper, immediately focused on Irvine as a suitable transfer destination.

"Everything I'd heard about Scott was good, and [her former teammates] confirmed that Scott was amazing," said Goodson, whose mother Shelley (tennis at South Alabama) and father Marc (baseball at South Alabama and Florida State) were also Division I athletes. "I thought that was nice, because I knew how big a part of your life that your relationship with your coach can be."

Juniper immediately embraced Goodson's desire to abandon the forward position and helped his new 5-foot-11 phenom blend inconspicuously into a team that lists chemistry as its biggest strength.

"[Juniper] said he could see me fitting perfectly into the defense," Goodson said.

That she fits in as much as she stands out is another apparent contradiction. But those in the program's inner circle rave about Goodson's unselfishness and her genuine caring for others.

With Goodson completing the puzzle, UCI reeled off a 17-game unbeaten streak that included 13 straight wins. The program's first Big West regular-season title also made history when UCI became the only team to win all eight regular-season conference games. The 'Eaters have outscored foes, 49-17, and posted 11 shutouts.

They slowly climbed into the national rankings and, despite a loss to Long Beach State in the conference tournament final, gained the school's first NCAA Tournament bid as an at-large entry.

They rallied past Arizona State, 2-1, in the opener, then took down ACC champion Wake Forest, 2-0, Sunday, with Goodson scoring the capping goal on one of her trademark vapor-trail blasts from just inside the box.

"She strikes the ball very, very well," Juniper said. "Technically, she's at the highest level. She can almost kick it as hard as me."

Goodson, majoring in sociology with a minor in education, said she wants to eventually teach and coach soccer. Just now, however, there is nowhere she would rather be than helping this team.

"I think this is the right place for me," she said. "I don't even know how to explain it. I'm really lucky."

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