For those in the dark regarding women’s soccer, now may be a good time to jump on the bandwagon. Last year, our fearless Lady Anteaters beat Arizona State in the first round and ACC champions Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. A heart-breaking OT loss to Pac-10 champs Washington ended their season in the third round (the farthest UCI has ever gone), but a 19-3-1 season still ended with a remarkable 16 wins in their last 18 games. Because senior and leading scorer Tanya Taylor graduated (and was drafted by the Boston Breakers) though, coach Scott Juniper knew he had to find a way to replace her 11 goals and 12 assists (a UCI record). And did he ever.
Enter Natalia Ledezma, a transfer from UCLA. Last year, the 5’2 sophomore played right-back for the Bruins, a defensive position. This year, Ledezma already has 11 goals and 6 assists as a forward for UCI, including a hat trick against Cal State Northridge last night. Besides being the first UCI women’s hat trick in 15 years, Ledezma’s feat was also against a solid opponent–the Matadors were 4-1-1 in Big West play before the match, and their goalie Cynthia Jacobo has twice been name Big West Defender of the Week recently. I’m not sure if Ledezma was simply a victim of a ridiculously deep UCLA roster (they are ranked No. 3 in the country), or if she was improperly utilized at right-back, but it is amazing to me that she is good enough to play both defense and forward at such high levels. The best part of all this is that UCI gets to have the three-time team USA (U-15, U-17, U-18) member around for two more years after this season. Not to knock the former No. 3 for UCI, but Ledezma is already doing what Taylor only achieved as a senior.
No. 19 UCI’s triumphant shellacking of the Matadors comes after beating No. 22 Long Beach State (who the Anteaters lost to in the Big West finals last season) 2-0, and Cal State Fullerton 2-1, regaining first place in the Big West. If women’s soccer received the national hype and coverage that basketball or football does, Scott Juniper would be nationally known as one of the best young coaches in the game. He also would probably be frequently mentioned in rumors from bigger programs looking to poach him from UCI, but for now, Juniper will continue to poach other big time program players for UCI’s benefit. Last year, it was CoCo Goodson from Texas, and this year it’s Ledezma and Mady Solow from Florida. With the combination of solid four-year players (such as seniors Judy Christopher and Lexi Kopf) and high-level transfers, who knows what the next couple of years will hold for Juniper and his Lady Anteaters.