UCLA women’s soccer coach Jillian Ellis returned to the place where her coaching career jumpstarted and her team picked up a pair of wins this weekend at the Illinois Soccer Stadium in Champaign, Ill.

The No. 8 UCLA women’s soccer team defeated Ellis’s former team, No. 11 Illinois, 2-1. Two days later, the Bruins upset No. 6 Florida, 3-0, in the Illini Challenge Cup hosted by the University of Illinois.

“I enjoyed it, it was great to be back and see where the (Illinois) program has come to,” Ellis said. “Overall it was a great weekend, personally and professionally.”

Ellis helped build the Illinois women’s soccer program and coached the Illini for two seasons before coming to Westwood in 1999.

“We knew it was a big weekend going into it,” Ellis said. “We spoke about it before the weekend. It’s a good testing weekend to see if we’re starting to mature a little bit as a team, and I think we feel that we are.”

However, Ellis felt that despite the wins, both matches were tales of two halves.

“Our first two halves of soccer, we want to get there, we want to get smarter,” Ellis said. “We got better as the game wore on, but we haven’t put together a complete game yet.”

In Friday’s match against Illinois, the Bruins struck early.

Within the first four minutes of play, sophomore forward Sydney Leroux received a pass from senior forward Lauren Cheney inside the 18-yard-line and sent the ball into the lower left post.

But the Illini equalized the match in the 37th minute when forward Chichi Nweke registered her first goal of the season after corralling an Illini corner kick, and sending it in to make the score 1-1.

In the 78th minute, Cheney, unassisted, scored the game-winner, her second goal of the season.

On Sunday, against Florida, the Bruins scored all three of the team’s goals in the second half.

“I didn’t think in the first halves our front two forwards were taking the opportunity to face and run out there,” Ellis said. “I think at times we had chances to isolate them one-to-one and we preferred to lay the ball off. What we talked about at halftime is that when we have a chance, to face, turn, and get after them and face them. I think that was the difference.”

In the 51st minute, Leroux, who received a pass through the middle from senior forward Kristina Larsen, dribbled the ball past Gator goalkeeper Katie Fraine and buried the shot into an open net.

Larsen got on the scoreboard herself on a strike in the 75th minute that sent the ball into lower left post following a deflection by a defender. Freshman midfielder Ahsha Smith registered the assist.

In the closing minutes of the match, redshirt senior forward Kara Lang launched a 28-yard free kick that hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced in and out before Smith struck it in. The referees credited Lang with the goal.

Overall, UCLA outshot Illinois 23-10 and Florida 22-4.

But Ellis insisted that the Bruins needed to improve on their starts.

“Our first half, I think it’s a mental thing, we need to be better prepared for the kickoff,” Ellis said. “Certainly starting the game stronger would be something to work out.”

The Bruins return to Westwood next Sunday to play the home opener against Gonzaga at Drake Stadium.