If familiarity breeds contempt, it’s fair to say there might be some animosity brewing between UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer. The two programs will face each other for the second time in less than a week this Thursday in the Big West Conference Tournament after the Titans defeated the Anteaters 2-1 in overtime Sunday.
The Titans (5-3 in conference) will go into the game as the No. 3 seed while UC Irvine (5-2) is the No. 2 seed.
“Our record to this point is nonexistent,” said Head Coach Demian Brown. “The idea is real simple. It’s one and move on to the next. So for so many of our women, for whom now this is something that’s commonplace for them, we’re going to talk a lot about what our responsibilities are to be that team that’s going into the conference tournament again.”
Irvine jumped out to a 1-0 lead on an unassisted goal from Elizabeth Hutchison in the 44th minute Sunday. However, the Titans caught a lucky break when Anteaters defender Reema Bzeih headered the ball into her own net while trying to clear Jessica Simonian’s free kick in the 67th minute.
Neither team could break the tie in regulation, which led to Titans’ leading scorer Sarah Fajnor notching the deciding goal in the sixth minute of overtime to send the Titans to their fifth consecutive Big West Conference Tournament.
Fajnor’s goal against UCI goalkeeper Maddie Newsom was only the fourteenth the freshman has allowed this season, good for the fourth-best mark in the Big West. The success earned Newsom a spot on the Big West All-Freshman team.
As would be expected with playoff seeding on the line, the Anteaters and the Titans matchup last Sunday didn’t lack chippiness and physicality. The two teams committed a combined 17 fouls in their first matchup of the week, with Alba Barrios earning a yellow card for a tackle in the 30th minute of play.
The Titans managed to keep Anteaters leading scorer Noel Baham in check on Sunday, but the team will have to repeat the feat if it wants to move on in the tournament.
“Irvine is a great group, and we know that there’s two or three players that are very good for them that didn’t see the field today. We understand that there’s probably going to be a couple different dimensions to them that we didn’t see tonight, so we’ll prepare ourselves for that,” Brown said after the game on Sunday.
CSUF has been preparing for the Anteater rivalry for a while now. At the Fullerton Tournament earlier this season, after UCI played in the first game of the day, one particularly hyped-up UCI fan could be heard heckling Brown from the seating area. “The Eaters are coming for you Demian!” he yelled, over and over.
CSUF survived the Anteaters over the weekend, but the Titans will have to do it again if they want a chance to win their fourth consecutive Big West Tournament title.
If the Titans win against UCI, they will move on to play against the winner of CSU Northridge and Long Beach in the Big West Tournament Championship Sunday in Long Beach.
Thursday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m. in Long Beach.