Colleges: Anteaters bounce back

George Kuntz has learned not to get too excited about mid-season success. But the UC Irvine men's soccer coach was fibbing somewhat behind a muted grin Saturday night, when he was quick to call the Anteaters' 2-0 Big West Conference win at UC Santa Barbara "Just one game."

A win for any Big West program over UCSB, which has won seven conference regular-season and conference tournament titles in the last 10 seasons, is always a treasured accomplishment, particularly at always rustic and usually rowdy Harder Stadium.

The win was not only a welcome remedy to the disappointment of UCI's 1-0 conference-opening loss to visiting Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Wednesday. It also helped extend a winless conference start for the Gauchos.

The victory snapped a 16-game home unbeaten streak for the Gauchos, who were national champions in 2006.

UCI (9-2, 1-1 in conference), ranked No. 7 in last week's National Soccer Coaches Assn. of America poll and No. 1 in the West Region, needed a win to avoid slipping into the basement of the conference standings.

UCSB, which from 2001 through 2010 posted a 74-17-10 record in regular-season conference games (a .782 winning percentage), finds itself in last place in the seven-team conference. The No. 10-ranked Gauchos (6-3-1, 0-2), were upset, 3-1, at UC Riverside on Wednesday.

UCI, which sits in a four-way tie for second behind Cal State Northridge, will visit Cal State Fullerton (6-2-2, 0-1) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Titans stunned the Anteaters in the semifinals of the conference tournament last season after UCI had claimed its second regular-season conference crown in the last three years.

Northridge (5-4-1, 2-0) visits UCI on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The conference, the coaches for which picked UCI to finish fourth in the preseason poll, appears particularly balanced this season.

Cal Poly (4-3-2, 1-0), UC Riverside (6-3-1, 1-1), UC Davis (3-5-2, 1-1) are also tied for second with three points (three points for a win and one for a tie) heading into this week.

The UCSB student body was once again out in force among the 5,417 in attendance Saturday, adding justification to the words displayed on the T-shirt of the Gauchos' mascot. The T-shirt read: "There's no Harder Stadium than Harder Stadium."

UCSB tradition calls for students to celebrate their team's goals by throwing tortillas. A pregame announcement instructs the students to throw "up and not out" and only when UCSB scores. But, as usual, students appeared intent only on throwing tortillas in the direction of the field.

Dozens of tortillas sailed onto the playing surface, requiring frequent retrieval missions from staff workers.

But attempts to collect the debris from the field were not successful enough to keep them from interfering with play on a handful of occasions.

UCSB students have also taken the tradition on the road, much to consternation of officials at the other Big West schools.

This is surely a tradition that needs to cease, as it is only a matter of time, before a wayward tortilla hits a player in the eye.

Conference opponents, as well as UCSB, should insist on halting the tortilla tradition by instituting security measures/and-or penalties to the team that would represent a sufficient deterrent.

The UCI women's soccer team opened Big West play with a tie against UC Davis on Friday and a loss at Pacific Sunday. Sunday's 3-2 overtime setback marked the Anteaters' first conference regular-season loss since Oct. 25, 2009.

UCI, the defending conference regular-season champion which was picked to defend its crown by Big West coaches, is 2-3-2 in its last seven games, after a 5-0 start.

Coach Scott Juniper's 'Eaters, tied for sixth in the nine-team conference and five points behind first-place Long Beach State, play host to UCSB on Friday at 7 p.m. and Cal Poly on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Former UCI assistants Dave Kniffin (men's volleyball) and Doug Oliver (men's basketball) are not back this season.

Kniffin took a more lucrative job as a women's assistant at No. 1-ranked Illinois and Oliver stepped down to begin his retirement.

Kniffin, who played at UCI, was a key ingredient to Coach John Speraw's national titles in 2007 and 2009. His ability to work with setters and bond with all players helped contribute to the family atmosphere Speraw promotes.

Speraw filled the Kniffin vacancy by hiring Andrea Becker, a sports psychologist who he sees working on interpersonal relationships, both between the players and between players and coaches.

She played softball at Sacramento State, was most recently a professor of sports psychology at Cal State Fullerton, and has also worked at theUniversity of Tennessee.

The UCI men's volleyball staff also includes Eddie Rapp, a Costa Mesa resident who is in his 12th season as women's head coach at Fullerton Community College.

Oliver, who was Coach Russell Turner's top assistant, allows current assistant Ali Ton to move into that role.

Assistant Ryan Badrtalei and Nick Booker, who last year was the director of basketball operations, both move up one chair.

Former video coordinator David Lee assumes Booker's old role.


Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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