UCI's dream ends

IRVINE — In a flash, as explosive and sudden as a comet, the best season in UC Irvine women's soccer history ended Saturday night. More accurately, it crashed to the ground in a crumpled heap of disappointed players.

But soon after visiting Washington's golden goal early in the second overtime of the NCAA Tournament round of 16 contest before a record crowd of 1,254, Coach Scott Juniper began thinking of the universe that his 2010 Anteaters opened for a program that had never before even pondered such lofty competitive cosmos.

A core group of four future senior starters stepped into a program that had gone 3-13-1 in 2006. That team, coached by April Heinrichs, was outscored, 41-6, including 22-0 in seven Big West Conference games, all losses.

Juniper, an assistant to Heinrichs, took over and slowly, with the help of this senior class and subsequent recruits, began raising the level of play, and expectations.

Still, though Juniper related the development of a mindset that had his players believing they could challenge for a Big West crown this season, a standout player said this week that those aspirations seldom went beyond the spectrum of conference play.

After a 1-1-1 start, the 'Eaters posted a 17-game unbeaten streak that included 13 straight victories and the first unbeaten, untied conference season in Big West history.

They had won 16 of their last 17 going into Saturday, including a second-round triumph over Atlantic Coast Conference champion Wake Forest, and their 19-2-2 record gave them more wins than every Division I program except Stanford.

But Washington (13-8-2), having upset No. 2 national seed Portland on the road by virtue of penalty kicks in the second round, was reaching for dreams of its own.

The Huskies more than doubled the No. 16-ranked Anteaters' shots, 16-7, and continually pressured senior goalkeeper Danielle de Seriere, who had nine saves until Allie Beahan volleyed in an assist from Sarah Martinez in the 104th minute.

"We started looking more and more dangerous in both overtimes, then we finally got [a quality chance] and [Beahan, a freshman with only two goals coming in] buried it on the volley," Huskies Coach Lesle Gallimore said. "It was a beautiful goal. [de Seriere] did a tremendous job. I think she got her hand on that [final shot]. They were sliding and trying and defending like Irvine defends. They did not go down without a fight."

Juniper agreed.

"We couldn't have asked any more out of the players," Juniper said. "They're a real credit to the program, the school and the community. The effort was incredible.

"But it's a cruel sport. It's small, small differences that decide games. We've talked all year about putting wins in the box. [Today] is when they get to open it and really start to look back at what they've achieved. I think they'll be disappointed tonight, they'll be disappointed for a long time. But I think they can look back at the season and be very proud of it."

Juniper said this team went beyond making the program's star flash upon the national landscape.

"We started from a very tough spot coming out of the 2006 season with a lot of fresh faces," Juniper said. "Those fresh faces [starters de Seriere, Tanya Taylor, Alyssa Humphrey and Nikki Forrest] graduated tonight, if you like. They've really established the culture here … We're going to continue to evolve and it's now 'What next?' We want to be in these kind of games every year. These are the kind of games that competitors want to be in.

"Our job as a coaching staff now is to pick the team up and to very, very quickly start building for next year."

Gallimore said UCI has a lot to build upon.

"I was impressed with their whole team, a really well-coached team," Gallimore said. "You kind of hear in scouting reports, 'Oh, they're nothing special.' I laugh at coaches who say that. Any team that can win 19 games, to me, is special. I think people become a little bit of soccer snobs on how [UCI] wins and they pooh-pooh their nose at it. But to me, if you've got a team like [Juniper] has, that is athletic and quick and strong, and you can get them all believing in one thing, then you're going to get a season like they had. I tip my hat to them. I think they're tremendous."

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