Anteaters' seasons end cruelly

Soccer is excruciating. Just ask the men's and women's coaches and players at UC Irvine.

The UCI men were denied an NCAA Tournament bid, despite being ranked as high as No. 7 and being ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the West Region for most of the season.

The Anteaters' women saw their season end in the round of 16 on a golden goal late in the second overtime against Washington.

UCI women's coach Scott Juniper greeted reporters after the Washington game with: "Can you guys spell Grrrr?"

Even Washington Coach Lesle Gallimore, who spent some time as a student at UCI and who advanced past the second round by virtue of a 10-9 penalty-kick advantage at Portland, was quick to recognize the fickle fate that can and, inevitably does, rear its cruel head for all but the most fortunate teams.

"I hate soccer, have I told anyone yet?" Gallimore said with a smile after her team devastated UCI on Sept. 20. "I can't stand soccer. I don't know why I coach it. Its cruel. It's a cruel sport. It's one of those things where it's never good to be on the losing end and there are times when you feel like you've done everything you can and you still don't come out victorious."

With the benefit of some perspective, Juniper found some poignant words about the breakthrough season of his 19-3-2 squad that included the program's first Big West Conference regular-season title and first NCAA Tournament appearance.

"Regardless of the record, regardless of the wins, regardless of the championships, you have to ask yourself if you pursued victory with honor," Juniper said in his periodic newsletter sent Sunday. "There are a lot of accomplishments to talk about but to be able to answer a very big yes to this question is what makes me most proud of what this team has accomplished. Ultimately, isn't this a defining measure of success in any endeavor?"

A pair of local products are still helping their respective college programs increase their measure of success this season.

Newport Coast resident Camille Levin, a junior utility player at Stanford, has helped the No. 1 national seed reach the College Cup, the sport's version of the final four. Levin, who received honorable mention in All-Pac 10 voting, has started all 24 games for the 22-0-2 Cardinal, who meet Boston College in one semifinal Friday in Cary, N.C. Levin, who was a high school All-American at Tarbut V'Torah in Irvine, has 11 assists, second-best on the team, and has scored one goal.

Reed Williams, who led Corona del Mar High to CIF Southern Section and Southern California Regional titles last season, is a freshman forward at UCLA (16-4-1), which plays at No. 1-seeded Louisville (18-0-3) in a quarterfinal Saturday.

Williams has a goal and two assists in NCAA Tournament wins over Sacramento State and Dartmouth and has five goals and three assists for the season.

The Orange Coast College women's basketball program will win games it probably shouldn't this season, due in large part to the competitive and unselfish nature of its players, as well as the quality leadership of its coaches.

OCC Coach Mike Thornton, in his 22nd season and flanked by assistants Steve Popovich and former Pirates' standout Teeya Fernandez, showed some of their resolve by overcoming a 19-0 run that spanned the end of the first half and beginning of the second to top Merced, 57-50, in the semifinals of the Thanksgiving Classic on Saturday at OCC.

Thornton said the Pirates, who include nine sophomore returners from last year's 16-13 squad that Thornton said was perhaps the best he has ever had, in terms of chemistry and commitment, bonded before the season began on a team trip to Stanford.

They watched the Cardinal women's team practice and play an exhibition game and also attended Stanford's football game against Arizona and the women's volleyball team's match against UCLA.

The team came up with a mission statement for the season, Thornton said. They also came up with a motto: "Win the day."

Leigh Marshall, who played at Costa Mesa High and Orange Coast College, is the women's basketball coach at Palomar Community College in north San Diego County.

Marshall claimed the job two weeks after school started when the former coach resigned, Thornton said. Marshall is being assisted by former OCC star Courtney Ford, a two-time Orange Empire Conference MVP who is the Pirates' all-time scoring leader with 1,416 points. Ford completed two seasons at Mercer University last year season.

OCC is not scheduled to play Palomar this season.

Thornton said his son, Brian Thornton, a former All-American setter at UCI who helped lead the Anteaters to the 2007 NCAA men's volleyball championship, is enjoying playing professionally in France.

Brian Thornton played last season in Spain, before setting for the United States A2 team at the Pan American Cup last summer in Puerto Rico.

The Vanguard University men's and women's basketball teams open Golden State Athletic Conference play tonight at home against Concordia.

The Lions' women (2-2) are ranked No. 5, but could get a challenge from the Eagles (3-1) at 5:30.

First-year Vanguard men's coach Rhett Soliday brings a 1-4 record against the No. 5-ranked Eagles (4-2), for whom Soliday both played and worked as an assistant coach.

Soliday will match wits with former boss, Ken Ammann, who remains one of Soliday's best friends and was a valued advocate when Soliday got the Vanguard job after a stint as an assistant at UCI.

"I'm not worried about competing against [Ammann]," Soliday said last summer. "I think the question will be 'Can we stay in the game?' "

The men's game is scheduled for 7:30.

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