'Eaters handle Pilots

IRVINE — A two-game losing streak was nothing a little Kopf medicine could not cure for the UC Irvine women's soccer team Thursday night.

The Anteaters, ranked No. 11 in the nation just two weeks ago, bounced back from a 20-day winless spell by handling Portland, once ranked No. 4 this season, 3-1, in a nonconference game in front of a record-home crowd of 1,611.

Senior forward Lexi Kopf (pronounced "cough") scored the first two goals of the game to help the No. 23-ranked hosts overcome a shaky start and assume total command of the game.

Kopf, who now has four game-winning goals this season and shares the team lead with five goals, was opportunistic on her first tally and brilliant on her second.

She punched home a rebound of a Natalia Ledezma shot in the 22nd minute, as the ball ricocheted out of the grasp of Pilots goalkeeper Hailee DeYoung.

Kopf, whose speed, length and aggressiveness that borders on abandon make her a frequent blur across the landscape of any UCI run, used pace, touch and determination to double the advantage just more than four minutes into the second half.

Senior midfielder Judy Christopher drove a through ball from the back of the midfield circle onto a streaking Kopf's foot near the top of the box. Kopf, with a defender alongside, fielded the ball near knee level, brushing it forward, but taking just enough pace off to keep it from a charging DeYoung. Accelerating, she ran past the defender and poked the ball into the net just before DeYoung could close the gap.

"I just saw Lexi making a run and I know she's fast," said Christopher, who has four assists this season to lead the team, despite still helping anchor the defense at what Coach Scott Juniper calls the holding midfield spot. "I know if I give her a good ball through, she's going to get there."

UCI got back to its winning ways after an unexpected 2-1 loss to visiting Saint Mary's on Sunday. That defeat followed a 2-0 setback on Sept. 11 to then-No. 2-ranked Stanford, which has since claimed the No. 1 ranking.

UCI (6-2-1) had tied Santa Clara, 1-1, on Sept. 9, after opening the season with five straight wins.

"It was more of a wake-up call than anything," Christopher said of the Saint Mary's loss. "I think the loss was good for us, because we came back in practice and we were fired up. It was a very competitive week of practice and that gave us the edge [tonight]. We were just on it at practice."

Portland (4-5-1) was on it at the outset, dominating the first five minutes to help the visitors eventually wind up with a 14-13 advantage in shots.

"We got off to a really bad start," Juniper said. "We just looked a little frantic. But once we settled it down, the back four got things under control and we kind of built it from there."

Portland's Amanda Frisbie converted a penalty kick set up by a UCI foul in the box in the 86th minute, but senior All-American defender CoCo Goodson flicked a header in off a bending free kick near the sideline from Ledezma to finalize the scoring and give the huge home crowd yet another chance to celebrate.

"The way [UCI players] trained all week has been outstanding," Juniper said. "It has been ferociously competitive all week. I'm excited about the way we prepared. The goal scorers deserve credit, but it was a great team performance.

"I thought Lexi Kopf was outstanding tonight. She was chasing down everything, making things happen, and showing a lot of quality. She's getting more refined in everything she does and she deserves all the credit for her performance tonight."

Christopher was typically tenacious to help a defense that included back-liners Goodson, Sarah Devine, Zoya Farzaneh and Amanda Hardeman. Farzaneh and Hardeman cleared dangerous shots near the back post to help freshman goalie Jennifer Randazzo (seven saves) flirt with a shutout.

"This win is significant, regardless of what [Portland's] record looks like," Juniper said. "They are stacked full of superstars on that team. There are national team players everywhere. We can be very pleased."


Twitter: @barryfaulkner5

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