Women's Soccer: Newest Bruin Champs
Published Apr 1, 2014 8:00 AM
For years, the UCLA women's soccer team has distinguished itself as one of the top collegiate teams in the country, boasting 17 previous appearances in the NCAA Tournament and a slew of UCLA alumni and coaches (Sydney Leroux '12, Joy Fawcett, Lauren Cheney, Jillian Ellis, Nandi Pryce '05 and Iris Mora '07, among others), who have starred on their countries' national teams or in professional leagues. But even with all that talent, the Bruins had never won a national championship — until now.
On a miserably cold, rainy day last December in Cary, N.C., the UCLA women's soccer team was locked in battle against Florida State University in the NCAA title game. It had been a fierce defensive fight, with neither team managing to put the ball into the net. After 90 minutes of regulation play, the score remained tied, 0-0.
But seven minutes into overtime, the Bruins saw their chance. Junior defender Megan Oyster gambled on a run from the back and completed a perfect pass to sophomore forward Kodi Lavrusky, who scored the game-winning goal. Her jubilant teammates cheered wildly on the sidelines. The Bruins' 1-0 overtime victory not only brought UCLA its 110th national championship, but also its first in women's soccer.
"My first thought was, 'Oh no, please don't take me down into a dog pile!' I'm always so terrified because you can't breathe when you're at the bottom of those," Lavrusky says, laughing. "But honestly, I was shocked. I couldn't believe what had just happened, and I couldn't have been happier with the outcome."
The Hardest Run
Winning the national title was vindication for the Pac-12 champion Bruins, who had expected a No. 1 regional seeding in the NCAA Tournament but instead received a No. 2 seed. That meant that in their bracket, the Bruins would have to play Stanford (the 2011 national champions) and the University of North Carolina (the 2012 national champions, who had handed UCLA its only loss of the season). To make matters worse, the UNC game would be played on the opponent's home field, in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Bruins, however, were steadfast. They beat Stanford in the third round, 2-0, and defeated UNC in a harrowing, 1-0 double-overtime victory in the quarterfinals. UCLA had finally reached the College Cup — soccer's Final Four — but the hardest work remained.
Next up was No. 1-ranked University of Virginia, and it looked to be a battle between Virginia's potent offense and UCLA's top-ranked defense. But the Bruins surprised their opponents by switching their offense and becoming the aggressors. Junior defender Ally Courtnall scored the goal that tied the game at 1-1, and in the tiebreaker, junior goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland made two huge saves. The Bruins won, 1-1 (4-2 on penalty kicks).
The last school standing in UCLA's way was Florida State University, the Atlantic Coast Conference champions. Despite outshooting the Seminoles 15-5, the Bruins were unable to put them away in regulation. This set the stage for Oyster and Lavrusky, whose golden goal won the game in overtime, 1-0. When it was all over, the Bruins had finished with a 22-1-3 record and a 21-game unbeaten streak.
"We had quite a run," says UCLA's first-year Head Coach Amanda Cromwell, laughing. "If you look at the other teams' runs and their paths to the finals, ours was definitely one of the hardest. If not the hardest."
She called out several players for their contributions to the Bruins' title run, including Rowland, Courtnall, Oyster, defensive standout Abby Dahlkemper, junior midfielder Caprice Dydasco and the three captains, midfielders Jenna Richmond, Sam Mewis and Sarah Killion. She also had high praise for freshman forward Darian Jenkins, the team's leading scorer; sophomore forward Taylor Smith, who was "on fire" during the tournament; and, of course, Lavrusky, who scored the game-winner against Florida State in the finals.
"What makes me so proud of this team is the journey we took; it wasn't just the end result," Cromwell says. "Obviously, holding the trophy at the end was awesome, but as time goes by, we're really going to appreciate what we just did."