Anteaters have plenty to look forward to

The women's soccer and volleyball teams at UC Irvine are gearing up for the start of their respective seasons next month with optimism. And though the two programs eat, drink, breathe and train in Irvine, they are coming from decidedly different places.

UCI's women's volleyball team fell to 8-22  last season, 3-13 in the Big West Conference, in Coach Paula Weishoff's second season leading the program. It begins the season Aug. 26 in the Aztec Invitational, where it will play San Diego State, Nevada and Portland.

UCI's women's soccer team, conversely, is coming off a perfect 8-0-0 Big West Championship season and was 19-3-2 overall. Coach Scott Juniper's Anteaters reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and finished ranked No. 14 in the nation.

Juniper, though, said this year's team will have to make its own mark, having lost four starters from last year's team — including Big West Goalkeeper of the Year Danielle de Seriere and Big West Offensive Player of the Year Tanya Taylor.

"The way we approach it is we're building a brand new team, we're not trying to recreate what we did last year," Juniper said. "The other side of the coin is we have seven starters returning. We're excited about the players we have coming back."

Among those starters returning is CoCo Goodson, last year's Big West Defender of the Year. The Anteaters also have a couple of transfers joining the program in Natalia Ledezma from UCLA and Madison Solow from the University of Florida.

"They are very dynamic, very creative and are really going to help our team," Juniper said.

And the Anteaters are bringing in eight recruits that Juniper said could make an immediate impact.

"The eight players coming in give us depth in every position," Juniper said. "We'll be deeper in terms of talent than we've ever been. If the freshmen come in in shape and mentally ready to go, they're talented enough to start for this team."

They open the season with an exhibition at Anteater Stadium on Aug. 10 against Fresno State, then play for real starting Aug. 19 in the Texas A&M Invitational against University of Texas-San Antonio and Texas A&M.

The tournament in Texas will provide an immediate measuring stick for the Anteaters as both teams won their respective conference titles last year, with Texas A&M winning the Big 12.

"We showed last year we can compete with the best in the country," Juniper said. "We beat the ACC champion (Wake Forest) and we beat Oregon State (NCAA Tournament qualifier, second place in Pac 10). I'm excited expectations are so high. It's a reflection of success."

UCI's women's volleyball team had similarly high expectations last year. In Weishoff's first season as coach in 2009, the Anteaters went 22-8, won three tournament titles and placed second in the Big West.

They were returning all but one starter in 2010, but started the season slowly and couldn't recover.

"We got off on the wrong foot and could not get into a rhythm," Weishoff said. "We underachieved for the team we had. But the nice thing was our work ethic exceeded expectations. The heart and effort was there. I just chalk it up as a weird season."

Weishoff said her team has already began rebuilding its confidence with the spring season, in part because of a change in coaching philosophy.

"We've taken away the focus on individual stats," Weishoff said. "It's more about team goals than individual goals."

This year's team is young and will be tested by playing eight teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. Weishoff said the team does not have "that one all-star," but has plenty of talented players returning, including Alexandra Hauser, Shannon Fleming, Arielle Manz, Alyssa Squires, Pauline Acres, Taylor Smith and Alexandra Bubica.

"This is our rebuilding year," Weishoff said. "We had a great winter and spring and we're getting better. We have talent here. With any volleyball, serve and pass is important. You struggle when you don't serve and pass, but we should do well with that. We have a good group. I'm excited about the attitude we have going in."


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