Hey! Did you know the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team just won the World Cup? It was pretty great. Let me tell you. Shout-outs to former Bruins Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, and Mallory Pugh, along with former UCLA head coach Jill Ellis for the victory. Big, big fan of a U.S. team that knows how to actually win on a big stage.
Coincidentally, the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team lost to Mexico in the Gold Cup Final, as is their destiny.
Watching the two soccer (or football, if you want to be that way) matches on Sunday did make me think of UCLA athletics, specifically the last athletic calendar year, because the two matches were a great metaphor for UCLA’s year: the women’s teams routinely rose up and put on fantastic performances, while the men’s side underachieved.
It was the women who led the way for UCLA in 2018-2019. Consider, for instance, that the only national championships that UCLA won this past year were both on the women’s side, with beach volleyball and softball bringing in championship #117 and #118, respectively. Or, consider that, of UCLA’s four individual championships in 2018-2019, three were won by women, two for Kyla Ross in gymnastics while Gabby Andrews and Ayan Broomfield won the women’s doubles tennis championship. Or even, that UCLA had three student-athletes nominated for the ESPYS on Wednesday, with Rachel Garcia up for Best College Athlete, Katelyn Ohashi’s Perfect Floor routine up for Best Viral Moment and Best Play, and Kinsley Washington’s WCWS walk-off single also up for Best Play. While UCLA softball didn’t win either nomination, Ohashi won both awards she was nominated for.
Let’s talk about those national championship wins and give them their due. Now, I don’t profess to be an expert at beach volleyball, but I can tell you I paid attention to the NCAA Tournament and did watch the final match-up while standing in lines at Disneyland. It was an absolute pleasure watching UCLA leave no doubt that they were better than Southern Cal on that day. No, seriously — I’m pretty sure that, if you win a championship match without dropping a single set, that’s a pretty good sign of dominance. UCLA’s softball team was equally dominant once they got to Oklahoma City, not dropping a single game all week, even down to outright embarrassing #1 seed Oklahoma in front of a highly-partisan crowd in the Championship Series. At the same time, Rachel Garcia left no doubt as to why she won National Player of the Year for a second year in a row.
The national titles hide all of the other success UCLA women’s sports had this year. The UCLA gymnastics team was one of the best in the nation in Coach Val’s final year, losing a heartbreaker to Oklahoma in the NCAA Championships. The women’s basketball team announced their growing presence on the national scene by making their fourth-consecutive Sweet 16 appearance in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, showing that head coach Cori Close has the team headed in the right direction. The women’s soccer team had a great year as well, earning a regional #2 seed before eventually losing in the quarterfinals to #1 seed North Carolina.
Now, juxtapose all of that success to the performances of the UCLA men’s teams.
Maybe, it’s unfair to start with the football team, but it’s hard to deny that all of the positive fanfare and hype surrounding the return of Chip Kelly to college football was blown up over the course of a 3-9 football season that laid bare to just how broken the football program had become under former coach Jim Mora. Throw in subpar recruiting results in the last signing cycle and you have a recipe for disappointment.
Or, consider men’s basketball. There were some positives here: Steve Alford was finally fired! Never mind the fact that the firing only occurred thanks to non-conference losses to Belmont and Liberty. Yes, those teams were good, but UCLA men’s basketball should never be in a position where those losses are possible. While Mick Cronin is a capable coach, it doesn’t dismiss the fact that that UCLA was once-again embarrassed in the course of a coaching search.
Baseball....actually baseball was pretty good. Yes, they underachieved in the tournament, but that’s just how baseball works and it doesn’t take away an outstanding regular season. Men’s soccer, at least, got to finally fire Jorge Salcedo. Just don’t think about the fact that his team’s performance was not the driving factor behind his dismissal.
But, in the end, UCLA’s female athletes shined when the lights got bright while UCLA’s male athletes just hoped to avoid getting burnt. As Beyonce said, “Who run the world? Girls.”