After going undefeated in the regular season (18-0-2) and having won all their Pac 10 matches (9-0), the UCLA women's soccer team will now move on to the NCAA tournament, which begins on Friday. The Bruins received a #1 seed in the tournament, which also gives them the right to host their first four tournament matches at Drake Stadium. The Bruins are hoping to advance to their sixth consecutive College Cup, which will be in Cary, North Carolina; however, before we look towards the tournament, let's look back at the 2008 regular season.
The Bruins entered the 2008 season with high expectations after falling to USC in the 2007 College Cup. They were ranked #3 in the preseason and had three 2008 Beijing Olympians. Junior Kara Lang suited up for her native Canada in China, while head coach Jillian Ellis and junior Lauren Cheney were members of the gold medal winning United States squad. While an amazing accomplishment, the Olympics actually held the Bruins back early, even if the scores didn't show it. After a summer of non-stop soccer both Lang and Cheney were given time off by Ellis and neither played as many minutes as they had in past seasons.
The Bruins opened the season against UC Santa Barbara and while the Bruins won 2-1, the Gauchos scored one of only four goals the Bruins would surrender all season. The Bruins got an early test when they played at Portland in their second game. The Pilots, who finished the season ranked #4 in the nation, gave the Bruins a stern test, but a late goal gave the Bruins a 1-0 win. The Bruins proceeded to win their next three matches by scores of 7-0, 3-0 and 3-0 and they improved their record to 5-0.
The first "setback" of the season came in Connecticut against Brown, as neither team couldn't manage a goal and the match finished in a scoreless draw. The Bruins returned home to host the UCLA Women's Cup and won both of their matches 3-0. The Bruins then went north again, but this time only to Santa Clara where the Bruins and Broncos played to a scoreless draw. At 7-0-2, the Bruins then went on a run that would not see them lose the rest of the season. In a match versus Washington St., the Cougars scored in a 2-1 Bruin victory to end UCLA's ten match shutout streak. The Bruins winning streak was never in doubt until they played USC at the Coliseum. After scoring the match's first goal, they allowed the Trojans to equalize. A goal early in the second half gave the Bruins the lead back and the defense held on to improve the Bruins record to 14-0-2.
After their trip to the Coliseum, the Bruins hosted Stanford in what would be the biggest match of the year. The Cardinal was #2 in the country, one spot ahead of the Bruins and each were one of the nation's three undefeated teams. They were each tied atop the Pac 10 and their match up would likely determine the conference champion. The match was even for the most part as both teams generated a few chances against two spectacular defenses. The match remained scoreless until the 77th minute when UCLA's senior Christina DiMartino unleashed a rocket from well outside the box that found the net and put the Bruins ahead 1-0. The UCLA defense made that lead stick and the Bruins picked up one of the most impressive wins any team in the nation picked up all season long.
At 15-0-2 the Bruins had three matches left and three wins would sew up an outright Pac 10 title, their sixth in a row. The Bruins got those three wins, taking down Cal 3-0, Oregon St. 2-1 in 2OT and Oregon 2-0. That wrapped up the program's second consecutive undefeated conference season and first undefeated regular season. The Bruins outscored their opponents 48-4 on the season against a schedule that included five nationally ranked teams, three of which were in the top 10.
Junior Kristina Larsen led the team in goals on the year with 10, while Cheney notched 24 points on nine goals and six assists. Four other Bruins were tied with Cheney for the team lead in assists as DiMartino, Lang, freshman Sydney Leroux and junior Lauren Wilmoth also had six. Wilmoth and sophomore Lauren Barnes have been the linchpins in the Bruin defense as each played in every game and only missed one start combined in front of senior goalkeeper Ashley Thompson. Thompson was in a bit of a competition for the starting job early in the season, but wrapped up the spot and went on to start all but one game for the Bruins. She finished the year with a .944 save percentage, 0.21 goals against average and 11 shutouts.
Before we get into the Bruins path to the College Cup, let's go over the 64 team tournament format. The top four teams in each region are seeded and host in the first and second rounds. The top two seeds host in the third round and the #1 seeds host the quarterfinals. First round matches will take place at campus sites around the country on Friday, with second round matches on Sunday. The third rounds and quarterfinals, also at campus sites, will take place on the weekends of the 21st and 28th. The College Cup will begin on December 5 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina with a doubleheader of semifinals. The national champion will be crowned on December 7th with the national title match at 11 am PST.
The Bruins will face Fresno St. in their first round match and the winner of the Long Beach St. and San Diego match in the second round, should they advance. Fresno St. qualified for the tournament as winners of the WAC. The Bruins did not play either Fresno St. or Long Beach St. this season, but they did play San Diego in early October. UCLA and San Diego played to a scoreless tie in their tilt, but the Bruins exploded for three goals in the second half as they won 3-0.
The intriguing match up could be in the third round where the Bruins are slated to host #4 USC. There is some history between the two teams as the Trojans defeated the Bruins in the national semifinals last year before the Bruins took down the Trojans this year. An already instense rivalry with some recent tournament history thrown in should make for a great match,
If the Bruins should advance to the quarterfinals, they will likely take on either #3 Duke or #2 Virginia. The Bruins did not play either team this season, but they do have a recent tournament history. UCLA knocked the Cavs out of two recent tournaments as they were victorious last year's third round and in the 2005 quarterfinals. The Bruins and Blue Devils faced off in 2004 with the Bruins coming out on top in their third round match.
Should seeding hold, the College Cup would feature a match up between top seeds, with Notre Dame and Stanford facing off in one match and UCLA and North Carolina in the other. Other Pac 10 and west coast teams in the tournament are #2 Portland, Washington St., Cal and Washington. You can view the complete bracket here.
I encourage anyone in the Southern California area to come out to these tournament matches and cheer on our Bruins. UCLA averaged only 1,082 fans this season, but has a history of attendance falling below that in the tournament so help rectify that by showing up and doing some eight claps with fellow Bruins while watching some fantastic soccer.
Friday's game is at 5:30 pm PST and will be followed by the San Diego/Long Beach St. game at 8:00 pm PST. Sunday's second round match is at 1:00 pm PST. Tickets for all tournament games at Drake Stadium are $9 for adults and $7 for children and students. GO BRUINS!!!