UC Irvine finished first in Big West Conference regular season play
College Soccer News: Big West Women close regular season
Big West Conference women’s soccer closed out the season over the weekend, and now four teams look ahead to the conference tournament and a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. Regular season winner UC Irvine will be joined by Long Beach State, Cal State Northridge and UC Davis in the single-elimination semifinals on Thursday, November 3. The winners will then face each other on Sunday, November 6, to determine the Big West’s representative to the NCAA Tournament.
UC Irvine (13-3-2 overall, 6-1-1 conference) finished the season in style, drubbing UC Riverside 5-0 at home on Senior Night. Lexi Kopf celebrated her final regular season game as an Anteater by netting a second half hat trick – the third on an assist from her sister, Jordan Kopf. It was the second game in a row with a UCI trey. Natalia Ledezma, who added a first-half goal against the Highlanders, had her own three goal game against Cal State Northridge on October 23. It was a strong finish for the Anteaters, who started league play with a loss and a tie before turning around and winning six straight for their second straight regular season championship.
Irvine, ranked nationally in all three major polls, will host No. 4 UC Davis on Thursday. The Anteaters are 4-5 in Big West Tournament play and are looking to avenge their loss in the 2010 finals after going 8-0-0 in the regular season. The Aggies will be making their first tournament appearance and are hoping to shake off two straight losses to close their season.
While Irvine was rolling to a first place finish, Long Beach State (13-5-1/6-2-0) was making their way to a strong second, just one point back. The 49ers finished their season with a 2-0 against UC Davis and a 4-2 victory over Pacific. Long Beach has shown consistency over the years, taking three straight regular season titles from 2006-2008 (two shared) and notching 59 wins over the past five seasons – just four back of UC Irvine. The 49ers made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2008 and spoiled the Anteaters bid for the automatic NCAA berth in 2010.
Long Beach will host No. 3 Cal State Northridge on Thursday and looks to reverse a 1-0 loss at Northridge two weeks ago. Long Beach closed out the season winning three straight and nine of their last eleven matches. This will be the 49ers sixth tournament appearance in the last seven years, while the Matadors will make just their fourth ever and are looking for their first win.
Perhaps the biggest news in the final standings was UC Davis’ No. 4 finish, tied with Cal State Northridge on points with 13. The Aggies (11-6-1/4-3-1) had been picked to finish No. 8 in the nine-team league in the coaches’ preseason poll. Davis set program records for conference wins (4), overall wins (11) and winning percentage (.639). The Aggies had previously won only six games in their first four Big West Conference seasons. Meanwhile, the Matadors notched their third straight trip to the tournament after finishing third in 2010 and second in 2009.
In the individual honors for the final week, Long Beach State junior forward Nadia Link continued her success on the pitch with a seven point week (2 goals, 3 assists), good for Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Week. The tallies brought her to 14 goals and 10 assists on the season, tops in the conference in both categories. She becomes the first Long Beach player to reach double figures in both categories since the program was reinstated in 1998. Interestingly, it was only her second such honor this season, compared to Natalia Ledezma’s Player of the Week hat trick.
On the other end of the pitch, Cal State Fullerton’s senior defender Caitlin Mellano grabbed Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Week. Mellano was honored for a game winning assist against Pacific and for helping to hold two top conference scorers – Pacific’s Kristina Wavomba and Davis’ Allison Kelly – to a single shot each and not goals. Her assist allowed her sister Lauren Mellano to give the Titans a 1-0 win over the Tigers.
The Big West Conference is a nine-member Division I conference that is currently the only athletic conference with all of its members in one state (California). In 2012 the conference will add the University of Hawai’i at Manoa – its first non-California school since 2005 – and Cal State Sacramento. The Big West currently sponsors 15 sports, including men’s and women’s soccer, basketball, and track and field.
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