---Soccer is a mystifying game. Throughout the season, the UCLA Men's Soccer team squandered opportunities, gave up big leads, even let an opponent score three goals despite having a man advantage. The team was undoubtedly talented. That has never been an issue with a Jorge Salcedo team. But they didn't operate as a unified whole. Rather, they were a collection of parts which somehow came up short.
So yesterday, the Bruins played what to me was one of their best games of the year. They took the game to the opposition, controlled the pace, and had way more chances. And their reward? Nada. The ACC is held up in soccer as the be-all and end-all, similar to the SEC in football. If I hear that one more time, I will break out a recording of yesterday's game. If Virginia's performance represents ACC soccer, they can have it.
You should not be rewarded for playing not to lose. We see teams try this in basketball (slow down) and football (punt on 4th and 2 from the opponent's 36 yard line). And it usually doesn't work. But somehow it did on Sunday for Virginia. If only we could have scored that one needed goal to break open their shell. But it was not to be. Here is the official recap of yesterday's match.
On a more pleasant note, Friday's semifinal match was a perfect symbol for this year's Men's Soccer team. UCLA was clearly more talented than Providence. And the Bruins took the lead before half time on an unassisted goal by junior forward Larry Ndjock. So more talented, up at the break. What should we do? I know. Let's allow two goals by the opposition, and see if we can come back. Two Providence goals in the second half, and the clock started to tick down for the Bruins. But this team would not go quietly in the night. Ndjock scored his 2nd goal of the match in the 81st minute, on a deflected cross from freshman forward sensation Abu Danladi. The Virginia coach opined at half time that Danladi was the fastest player in college soccer. I have no idea how the coach would know, since he apparently recruits from a giant tortoise farm to find players for his style of play. But he could be right on this one.
With the score tied 2-2, we headed to golden goal overtime. Of UCLA's five NCAA tourney matches, including the final, four went to overtime. So this was definitely familiar territory. And with five minutes gone in the second overtime, freshman defender Chase Gasper scored the game winner on a deflected volley. And with that, the Bruins were in the finals. Here is the official recap.
And with these two games, the season comes to a close. UCLA finished with a record of 14-5-5. You never knew what you were going to get from this team. But at the end of the day, they stood tall all the way to the national championship final. Well done. We will particularly miss the contributions of four seniors. Midfielder Leo Stolz was a first team All-American this season and last (the website mentions 2013, I found the 2014 info on the Collegiate Coaches Association website), and is a finalist for national player of the year. Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr was a first team All-Pac 12 performer the last two seasons. Edwards was also on the US U-20 national team this year. Defender Aaron Simmons was honorable mention All-Pac 12 this year, after being a 2nd team All-Pac 12 selection in 2013. Forward Andrew Tusaazemajja turned in an honorable mention All-Pac 12 performance this season.
It will be hard to replace these Bruins. But there is a solid nucleus coming back, led by 3rd team All-American defender Michael Amick. Once again, this award is not something you can find on the UCLA website. BruinsNation is your source for the spotlight which should be shone on these deserving representatives of UCLA. Other all-conference selections this season (and this information is on the website- yay) include 2nd team forward freshman Seyi Adekoya, and honorable mention performers Danladi, junior Grady Howe, and sophomore defender Nathan Smith.
Well done one and all.
---The other season which came to a less satisfying conclusion was Women's Volleyball. UCLA traveled to Louisville to take on defending national champion Penn State in the NCAA round of 16 on Friday. As we know, reaching this stage is sufficient for an extra $2 million for our basketball coach. But it is not as easy to consider this to be as worthy of accolades as Doughnut does with TIARA. The Penn State meeting was a rematch of a regular season meeting on a neutral court at Stanford in early September. In that match, Penn State swept. And the result in the Friday match was the same. The set scores were 26-28, 16-25, 19-25. Reaching the round of 16 seems about right for this team, based on the performance during the season.
The Bruins end the season 22-12, 11-9 in conference play. Senior outside hitter Karsta Lowe graduates, and leaves a big gap to be filled. Lowe is a two time All-Pac 12 selection, and was recently named to the 3rd team Academic All-American team. She is a geography/environmental studies major. I can read a map, but that is where my geography talents cease. Hats off to Lowe for a great career on and off the court. Senior setter Julie Consani, sophomore libero Taylor Formico, and freshman outside hitter Reily Buechler received all-conference honorable mention honors.
You will note that Formico is a libero. To avoid confusion, this is not the same as a Blockero, which is a two-headed monster specializing in obfuscation, misplaced priorities, the hiring of coaches with contracts which provide for bonus payments for academic performance at a level which would result in NCAA penalties, and the construction of an on-campus hotel while we lose entire research departments to Southern Cal.
Returning to Women's Volleyball, the question now is what should we expect in the future. Was the national title in 2011 a mark to which we can realistically aspire every season, or is the last three years of early or middle round exits from the tournament (not to mention missing the tourney entirely in 2013) more the norm? Time will tell.
---And with that, the fall season comes to a close. All in all, this was a very successful fall. We will provide updates when the Capital One Cup and Director's Cup standings come out. But we have NCAA title #112, thanks to Men's Water Polo, with a glorious victory to knock Southern Cal off its perch. We have the Women's Soccer team which defended their national title with incomparable style, only to fall short in the quarterfinals to a Virginia team which actually scored twice in regulation, a fact which went undetected by their men's team. It was fantastic to follow this core group of seniors the last two years. We will see a lot of these players in future Olympics and World Cups, and Coach Cromwell will reload meanwhile for next season. And we have the Men's Soccer team, which reached the national finals, only to fall short. This team was frustrating at many times, but they also provided thrills galore.
Hats off to all of our Olympic Sports student-athletes. You are doing us proud. And despite what Moron Center says, you are not on the precipice. You are on the summit. Thanks for a great fall season.