|School – UC Irvine|
|Conference – Big West|
|Coach – Chris Volk (1st Season)|
Background –With at least 14 wins in five of the past six seasons and four Big West titles in that time, UC Irvine is entrenched as a West Coast power. First-year coach Chris Volk will look to continue that tradition in 2014 as he takes over for George Kuntz, who bolted for the head job at Cal State Fullerton after last season. The lead assistant under Kuntz for 17 years, Volk didn’t lose any of his returning players to transfers. But he does face the difficult task of replacing a pair of graduated NSCAA All-Americans in defender Marco Franco and midfielder Enrique Cardenas. Defense was the strength in 2013, as the Anteaters conceded just 19 goals in 23 games and posted 10 clean sheets. And while they did pile up the wins during Big West play (9-2-1 including the postseason tournament), they also fared well in non-conference play with wins over UCLA, Louisville and San Diego State. After winning the conference tourney for the fourth time in six years, Irvine was riding a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament and earned the No. 12 seed. The Anteaters shut out North Carolina in the second round but then dropped a 1-0 decision to Maryland in the round of 16. In addition to the All-American nods, Cardenas earned Big West Midfielder of the Year honors while Franco was the 13th overall selection in the MLS Draft by the Chicago Fire. Departed seniors Christopher Santana and Tarek Morad both earned All-Conference honors. Returning junior goalkeeper Michael Breslin was an All-Big West honorable mention selection and returning sophomore midfielder Michael Sperber took home All-Big West freshman team honors.
Offense – Job 1 for the Anteaters will be finding a way to replace the 14 goals and nine assists that Cardenas and Santana combined for last fall. The return of forwards Cameron Iwasa (7g, 4a) and Lester Hayes (4g, 2a) is a good start. Mitchell Alvarez (3g, 3a) and Mats Bjurman (2g, 5a) will also contribute from the midfield. The team will get a boost from the return of redshirted midfielders Renato Torquato and Gor Kirakosyan. Other possible breakout candidates include Foothill CC transfer Edgardo Molina and sophomore Jack Birkenbeuel.
Defense –The loss of defenders Franco and Morad will hurt, but four other key defensive pieces return to hold down the fort. Goalkeeper Michael Breslin recorded 10 shutouts in his second season as a starter last fall. His brother Bryan returns as a starting defender along with Thomas Janjigian. Sophomore Michael Sperber is also back after starting 18 games as a defensive midfielder last season. Matt Tilly will challenge for minutes at defender after missing all of last season with an injury. Freshmen defenders Adam Fox, Ignacio Ramirez and Corey Schramm could also force their way onto the field with strong preseason performances.
Newcomers – Three and A Half Star Recruiting Class
Adam Fox – Defender – Hacienda Heights, Calif. – Two-year captain at Los Altos High. Helped club team West Coast FC win USYS National Cup title in 2013.
Gerardo Gonzalez – Midfielder – Wasco, Calif. – Transfer from Taft College. Two-time league MVP at Wasco High.
Edgardo Molina – Forward – East Palo Alto, Calif. – Transfer from Foothill Community College. Scored 13 goals last year for the Owls. 2012 CIF Central Coast Section Player of the Year at Menlo-Atherton High.Scored 51 goals in his high school career.
Ignacio Ramirez–Defender – Anaheim, Calif. – Played for Strikers FC club team and La Palma Kennedy High. Trained at the Chivas de Guadalajara youth academy in 2012.
Anthony Royer – Midfielder – La Crescenta, Calif. – Played with the L.A. Galaxy academy team. Won a CIF Southern Section Division IV title in 2012 with Crescent Valley High.
Corey Schramm –Midfielder/Defender – Artesia, Calif. – Started 51 games for Pateadoresclub team over the past two seasons.
Felipe Silva – Forward – Anaheim, Calif. – Helped Servite High to CIF Southern Section Division I finals in 2013 and semifinals in 2014. Helped club team West Coast FC win USYS National Cup title in 2013. Named MVP of 2013 Southern California All-Star game.
|Prognosis for 2014 –Even though seven starters return from a team that reached the last 16 of the NCAA tourney last year, replacing two All-Americans is a tall task. With numerous transfers coming in, multiple players returning from injury and a few quality freshmen to incorporate, the Anteaters don’t lack for options. It just might take a little while for the puzzle to come together. The non-conference schedule is manageable, highlighted by a trip east to face Georgetown and West Virginia, as well as a visit from Clemson. Finding the right combinations will be a challenge for Volk in his first season, but if he can pull the right strings a fifth NCAA tourney appearance in seven years is well within reach|