The last time UCLA women’s soccer qualified for the Final Four in the NCAA tournament, it was the national favorite. But Virginia eliminated the Bruins’ chances of repeating with back-to-back championships after upsetting them 2-1.
UCLA (19-2-2), the only second-seeded team to make the College Cup, has an opportunity to wipe that memory away Friday against Duke (23-2), a team that has only lost to one opponent all season – North Carolina.
The Bruins didn’t match up with the formidable Tar Heels but had to vanquish San Diego State, Northwestern, Virginia and Princeton on their way to Orlando. They outscored opponents 9-3 in the first four rounds of the tourney.
But Duke presents a much more intimidating obstacle.
The Blue Devils, much like the Bruins, boast an explosive offensive attack with several threats. All of them pale in comparison to senior forward/midfielder Imani Dorsey, who has tallied 14 goals along with 10 assists.
She’s not the only facilitator on the team, however. Sophomore midfielder/forward Ella Stevens ranks in the top 10 in the nation with 11 assists on the year. Junior forward Kayla McCoy is also a main contributor, recording 14 goals and seven assists as well.
Nearly all of Duke’s goals are set up by a flurry of passes and impressive moments of teamwork. The team has registered 60 goals on the year, and players own a combined 51 assists.
UCLA has a regiment of reliable goal-scorers on offense – more than fans realize.
Junior forward Hailie Mace stole the show in the Elite Eight matchup – and for much of the season. With blistering speed, the former defender has turned into the team’s biggest threat on offense, leading the squad with 16 goals on the season.
Redshirt sophomore forward Anika Rodriguez has developed into a premier scorer as well. She was the team’s main facilitator last year, leading the team in assists with eight. Now she’s contributing on offense with assists and goals – she has eight this season.
A pair of Olympians provide even more talent offensively. Sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming and freshman forward Ashley Sanchez have combined for 11 goals and 20 assists.
And the team boasts a rapport like no other. The Bruins have scored 54 goals this season. But they have notched 59 assists, an impressive ratio.
Both teams possess formidable defenses.
Duke has not yielded a goal in the NCAA tournament thus far, outscoring opponents 15-0. UCLA has surrendered three goals in the postseason, but have still managed to tally multiple goals in three of its four matches.
The Blue Devils have posted 17 shutouts to this point. The Bruins have not reached that level, but they still held opponents scoreless in eight bouts.
Friday night will feature a primetime battle, and whichever team prevails will ultimately deserve a shot at the title. UCLA won the last battle between the two teams in 2013, the last time the Bruins won the NCAA title.
The Bruins face the Blue Devils tomorrow at 4:30 pm PT on ESPNU.