Russell Turner turned 41 Monday and, at least by late morning, the second-year UC Irvine men's basketball coach's office displayed no signs of a party.
Coming off a 13-19 debut campaign, embarking on the 2011-12 season with the least-experienced roster in NCAA Division I (including eight freshmen), and being pegged for last place in the nine-team Big West Conference preseason poll, there appears to be little to celebrate.
Yet the energy and enthusiasm that created a buzz long after the former NBA, Stanford and Wake Forest assistant was hired, clearly continues to burn more brightly than the appropriate assemblage of birthday candles.
With one full season under his belt, Turner said he more clearly understands the challenges facing him and his program as it attempts to gain the school's inaugural NCAA Tournament appearance.
But he embraces those challenges, with an optimism he said has not diminished in the least.
"Not at all," Turner said when asked if his expectations have lowered after his initial season. "In fact, I'd say the opposite has occurred. There definitely have been some things that were surprises, but I assumed that would be the case. It's tough here. When you are being recruited to be here, you are mainly looking at the positives, if you are a young guy like me and figuring out if this is the place you want to be a first-time head coach. As you struggle, you identify things that made others who have been outstanding coaches in this position, also struggle.
"I understand those things a little better now, but I don't have any less optimism that we can be good and then great. I know you have to get good before you can talk about being anything else. That's the challenge we have. We've got to get good … But if we're able to do what I expect us to do, which is grow together, then in time we're going to be good; we're going to be really good."
The Anteaters open a two-game exhibition schedule on Nov. 2 against Cal Baptist. They open the regular season Nov. 11 at Cal.
A pair of Orange Coast College teams are still chasing Orange Empire Conference titles this fall.
Coach Kevin Smith's women's soccer squad is 9-3-3, 7-2-2 in conference and in second place, behind Santiago Canyon with five conference regular-season matches remaining.
OCC tied Santiago Canyon, 1-1, on Friday. Santiago Canyon is 13-1-1, 9-1-1 and has 28 points in the conference standings (three points for a win and one for a tie). OCC has 23 points, one better than Cypress.
OCC plays at Cypress on Nov. 8.
The Pirates boast the conference's top two scorers in freshman forward Jessica Amaral (nine goals and six assists for 24 points) and freshman midfielder Emma Pridmore (10 goals and 23 points).
The OCC women's volleyball team is also in second place in the Orange Empire Conference. Coach Chuck Cutenese's Pirates are 11-2, 6-1 in conference) one game behind Golden West (12-3, 7-0).
There are seven regular-season matches left for OCC, including home dates against Golden West (Nov. 9) and third-place Irvine Valley (Nov. 2).