This was a team for the ages. A highlight reel of this season should be required viewing for all UCLA teams.
Coming into this season, UCLA had lost in the NCAA round of 8 at Stanford. The year before that, they lost in the 2nd round at home to San Diego State on shots from the penalty spot. And the year before that they lost in the 3rd round at Stanford. So regular season success was not translating into postseason success.
Also coming into this season, UCLA had to replace its leading scorer from 2012, US Under-20 star Zakiya Bywaters.
In the initial season rankings, the #1 team was North Carolina. UCLA went to Chapel Hill in early September, and lost on the only goal of the match in the 79th minute. This would prove to be the only UCLA loss for the season.
The #3 team in the initial season rankings was Notre Dame. UCLA went to South Bend before Chapel Hill, and won with the only goal of the match scored by freshman Darian Jenkins. How about going into South Bend and scoring the game winner in the 4th game of your collegiate career?
The #2 team in the initial season rankings was Stanford. UCLA traveled to Stanford in mid-October, and won 2-1 in double overtime. UCLAtook the lead on Jenna Richmond’s 1st goal of the season in the 62nd minute. Stanford struck in the 89th minute to send the game to overtime. So here is a team which saw a big win slip out of its grasp at the last minute on the road. And what happened? Another freshman, Lauren Kaskie, scored the first goal of her collegiate career to offset some really bad memories against Stanford.
So UCLA lost 1 game on the road by one goal to the then #1 team in the nation, and gave up 7 goals during the regular season. And their reward from the NCAA seeding committee? A trip to Chapel Hill, because they were not considered one of the top 4 teams in the country despite a #2 final regular season coaches’ poll ranking.
But first, UCLA had to face the team which had knocked them out of 2 of the last 3 tournaments- Stanford. UCLA took it to Stanford, outshooting them 8-3, and winning 2-0 on a first half goal by Kodi Lavrusky (remember that name) and a second half goal to ice it in the 85th minute from Taylor Smith. One nemesis up, one nemesis down.
Next was the rematch in Chapel Hill. After more than 100 minutes of scoreless soccer, Taylor Smith scored the golden goal which sent UCLAto the College Cup. Two nemeses up, two nemeses down.
In the semi-finals, UCLA faced Virginia. UCLA fell behind on a defensive miscue in the 73rd minute. But there was no quit in this team. They tied the game in the 85th minute on a goal by Ally Courtnall. And then after 2 scoreless overtimes, shots from the penalty spot. UCLA had not taken a single penalty shot all season long. But Sam Mewis, Sarah Killion, Lauren Kaskie and Rosie White converted, while Katelyn Rowland stopped 2 Virginia attempts to send the Bruins to the finals.
And in the finals, UCLA took it to Florida State, hitting the woodwork twice in the first half, both times by Taylor Smith. Just when it looked like we might be headed to another PK scenario, Kodi Lavrusky stepped up with the national championship winner.
This was a team which lived up to John Wooden’s definition of success- "peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming."
The Bruins had to get the monkey off their back in terms of old rivals, they had to replace their senior leader, they had to overcome a royal bone-headed seeding decision by the NCAA, they had to come from behind when the chips were down against Virginia, they had to not get down when they were denied by the woodwork in the finals.
Every other UCLA team could learn from the example this group of student-athletes set this season. Hats off to the champions !
Go Bruins !!