Both teams’ reactions were strikingly different.
Multiple UCLA women’s soccer players tackled redshirt sophomore forward Anika Rodriguez when her shot reached the back of the net. Northwestern’s players stopped in their tracks, looking down and realizing the unfortunate truth.
The Bruins registered just one goal throughout the 93-minute bout, but the goal ousted the Wildcats (12-8-3) and sent second-seeded UCLA (17-2-2) into the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time under coach Amanda Cromwell.
Coming off a game in which the Bruins notched three goals, the offensive presence was there. Through the first half, they garnered an astounding 15 shots.
But Northwestern’s back line remained stable, surrendering zero goals.
The Wildcats sacrificed offensive momentum for a stout defense, packing players into their own third. Most opponents the Bruins played this season employed a similar game plan, possibly understanding that their club doesn’t boast as much firepower as UCLA.
And it worked for 92 minutes and 20 seconds, the Bruins ended the first 90 minutes without a goal for just the third time this season. Then Rodriguez made her run.
Sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming wrested with a Northwestern defender for the ball before it ended up with freshman forward Ashley Sanchez. Sanchez dribbled it up field before pushing a through ball near the box past the entire Wildcats back line.
Rodriguez took it from there.
She corralled the ball and strode forward with two defenders tailing her. Northwestern’s goalie seemed to be in limbo, coming out of the box but not charging the forward. Rodriguez then slipped a ground shot right past the goalkeeper into the left side of the goal.
Rodriguez, who was the team’s main setup person last season on the offensive end, has been a scoring weapon in the opponent’s third, compiling a now-second-most seven goals on the year. Junior forward Hailie Mace, the team’s leading scorer, hasn’t registered a goal since Oct. 22.
With a trip to the Elite Eight on the line, UCLA now hosts No. 3 seed Virginia (13-5-4) in a rematch from earlier this season. It will be another bout in the team’s storied rivalry.
The Cavaliers eliminated the Bruins from the NCAA tournament in 2014, when Cromwell’s squad looked even more formidable than the championship winning unit from 2013.
Virginia wasn’t as dominant as usual following its loss to UCLA. The Cavaliers went 7-2-4 after the loss but prior to the tournament.
However, they’ve looked dominant in their previous two matches, outscoring their opponents 5-0. Yet, Virginia will likely not revert to the plan that most teams use because its talent can match up with that of UCLA.
The Cavaliers’ offense may not be as fruitful as the Bruins’ attack force, but it is still above-average, notching 1.59 goals per game. The two teams likely won’t engage in a low-score affair.
Virginia has a dynamic duo in senior forward Veronica Latsko and freshman midfielder Taryn Torres. Each lead the team in goals with eight, while sophomore forward Taylor Ziemer sits atop the team in assists with six.
If both teams live up to each of their potential, it will be a worthwhile matchup to watch.
This is your UCLA women’s soccer vs. Virginia game thread.