It is traditional when the calendar flips to the next year to look back at what transpired in the previous year. In UCLA's Olympic Sports, we had many highlights. I have narrowed the list down to my top five for calendar year 2014. Please feel free to chime in with other selections.
First, this listing excludes football and basketball. There are plenty of opportunities elsewhere on this site to debate whether we have hit a plateau with 10 wins in football (and whether this plateau is acceptable) and whether we will soon hit a plateau with 10 wins in basketball.
----December 7. Men's Water Polo takes down Southern Cal 9-8 to win UCLA's first NCAA championship in the sport since 2004. This was especially sweet because Southern Cal has dominated this sport since Adam Krikorian left UCLA to take over the USA Women's team. The Bruins had already defeated $C three times, including a conference win in $C's pool and a 10-5 thrashing in the 3rd place game in the conference tourney. But this match was for all the marbles.
UCLA took a 7-4 lead into the 4th period, thanks to a hat trick (to that point) from junior Danny McClintick and a buzzer beater at the end of the period from sophomore Jack Fellner as he fired in a rocket from mid-tank (great expression from the commentators, and an apt description by the way for how much energy our athletic department is expending on behalf of our student-athletes). $C then scored the next three goals to tie the match with 3:32 to play. McClintick scored his 4th goal of the match but $C countered. With less than a minute to play, the Bruins got the championship goal from sophomore Gordon Marshall.
----May 20. Women's Tennis defeats North Carolina 4-3 in a nail biter to win the NCAA championship. Sophomores Catherine Harrison and sophomore Kyle McPhillips won easily at #2 doubles. UCLA's #1 doubles team of senior Robin Anderson and sophomore Jennifer Brady won their match in a tie breaker and the Bruins had the all-crucial doubles point.
Anderson then dominated her opponent at #1 singles, but Brady went down at #2 singles to make the score 2-1 UCLA. And when Harrison lost at #5 singles, the match was knotted at 2 apiece. The drama then picked up, as the remaining three matches went to three sets each.
Senior Chanelle Van Nguyen won her match at #4 singles after dropping the first set to put the Bruins back up 3-2. But senior Kaitlin Ray lost her match at #6 singles 7-5 in the third set, to put the match and the championship in the hands of Kyle McPhillips. McPhillips broke her opponent to take a 5-3 lead and served for the match. After falling behind 0-40 (!), she battled back to deuce. The two #3 singles players battled back and forth, with two breaks saved by McPhillips and three match points saved by her opponent. Finally, McPhillips prevailed on her fourth match point, and the Bruins were champions.
---October 9. Women's Soccer won a thriller at home over Stanford 2-1 to let the rest of the country know that the defending national champs meant business. Even though UCLA eventually lost in the national quarterfinals, this was my personal favorite team of calendar 2014. Time after time in almost every sport, it seems like UCLA can't stand prosperity, and eases off the pedal with a lead. See men's water polo above, for example. Or see the Alamo Bowl for the most recent example. But the Women's Soccer team never eased up. They dominated play in every match until the last game of the season. The Stanford match was not just another regular season conference match. This was a showdown for supremacy on the West Coast. Both teams eventually received #1 seeds for the NCAA tourney, so these clearly were powerhouses.
UCLA had not conceded a goal in 220 minutes (almost 2 and a half matches) when Stanford came to town. And after Stanford scored off a corner kick in the 53rd minute, it looked pretty dicey for the Bruins. But UCLA put the pressure on, and received a deserved equalizer in the 77th minute on senior Ally Courtnall's 1st goal of the season. The Bruins then scored the game winner in the 85th minute, as sophomore Annie Alvarado converted a pass from Honda National Player of the Year senior Sam Mewis. This was a very special group of seniors, coached extremely well by Amanda Cromwell.
---December 6. In perhaps the craziest match in UCLA soccer history, the Men's Soccer team defeated North Carolina on penalty kicks to advance to the College Cup. A North Carolina player was shown a red card in the 20th minute. So the Bruins had a man advantage for the rest of the match. Naturally, the first goal was scored on a set piece by North Carolina (!), and the Bruins trailed 1-0 at halftime.
UCLA finally broke through with three goals in six minutes, scored by sophomore Brian Iloski, freshman Christian Chavez and freshman Abu Danladi. You would think that a 3-1 lead with 16 minutes to play and a man advantage would be enough for a done deal. But remember the comment above about taking the foot off the pedal. North Carolina managed to score two goals to knot the score at 3-3. And after two scoreless overtimes, we were on to shots from the penalty spot to determine the winner.
The North Carolina goal keeper stopped the first UCLA shot, and North Carolina converted to a take a 1-0 lead after round 1. Both teams converted their next three opportunities to make the score 3-4 North Carolina. Senior Leo Stolz, a finalist for Hermann National Player of the Year, converted his penalty shot to put the match in the hands of the North Carolina shooter and UCLA's goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr- make and North Carolina wins the shootout 5-4, miss and we keep playing. And Edwards came up huge with the season on the line, making the save to extend the match. Remember, this was after seeing three balls at the back of the net from a 10 person squad during regulation and four successful conversions to start the penalty shootout. But Edwards was clearly not fazed and got the job done.
Both teams traded successful conversions in the next two rounds to make the score 6-6. Freshman Chase Gasper made his attempt to put the Bruins up 7-6. And when Edwards saved again, the Bruins were headed to the College Cup. Although UCLA was thwarted by Virginia's tortoise approach in the finals, the quarterfinal match will be remembered as a match for the ages.
---July 18. David Berg passed up the chance to sign with the Texas Rangers, and opted to return to Westwood for his senior Baseball season. Admittedly, the first four choices above are team accomplishments. And this is an individual action which only sets the stage for potential future success. But what a stage. Berg is the school record holder in appearances and saves, and also holds the NCAA record for most saves in a season, which was set when the Bruins won the College World Series in 2013. The Bruins were already tabbed as an early favorite for Omaha by Baseball America, and that was without knowing that Berg would return. With his addition to an already solid roster, the future is looking bright for UCLA baseball.
I have limited the list to current performers. But if we expand the list to alums, we would definitely want to include the following-
---April 21. Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon. He was the first American to win the men's race since 1983. Meb was at UCLA from 1994 to 1998. In 1997, he had the greatest year of any UCLA distance runner, and possibly the greatest year of any collegiate distance runner period at the NCAA's. He won the 5K indoor championship in the winter. He followed that up with 5K and 10K outdoor championships in the summer. And he capped the year off by winning the cross-country championship in the fall. Champions made here, for sure.
Again, these are obviously subjective calls. Please add your thoughts in the comment section. And, again Happy New Year and here's to a very successful 2015.