The forecast for the 2010 season so far has been somewhat difficult to pinpoint for the young UCLA women’s soccer team.
At times, the product displayed on the field has been simply radiant, a 2-1 victory over then-No.3 Notre Dame attesting to just that.
On other occasions, the No. 10 Bruins have shown some late-summer gloom that has staked them to a 4-1-1 record after six matches, instead of what could easily be an undefeated standing.
But from the very beginning, 12th-year coach Jillian Ellis figured that there would be some bumps along the way, especially this early in the season. After all, her starting lineup features just six players who started at least 10 games in 2009.
“You certainly have to have patience, but you also recognize that these kids have it in them,” Ellis said. “It’s not about just the level of play, it’s about the level of expectation you have of them in the classroom and the expectation you have of them as people. Those are things that we feel that we want to bring the new players into and assimilate them as quickly as possible.”
Already, two of the eight newcomers have adjusted to their new environment quite seamlessly. Freshman midfielder Jenna Richmond has scored four goals and started all six matches thus far, as has freshman defender Ariana Martinez, who previously played as a forward in high school.
“Neither one of them is playing like a freshman,” Ellis said of her two first-year starters. “Ari is playing in a completely different position than she’s used to, so it’s a phenomenal feat, really.
“And Jenna, from day one, this kid has got it. Right now, I think she’s the best freshman in the country. She has just been very smooth and is giving us a lot of offensive prowess, but she’s also just a very creative player.”
Alongside Martinez in the starting backline this season are senior defender Lauren Barnes and sophomore defender Lucretia Lee.
For Barnes, a second-team All-Pac-10 selection last year, it has certainly been a noticeable change, given that as recently as last season she was the youngest member of the backline.
Now, Barnes finds herself in a mentor’s role for the Bruin defense, a factor that she hopes to excel upon as just one of her goals this season.
“Leadership will be big for me this year because they’re all new,” she said of her fellow defenders. “Free kicks are also something that I’ve been working on in practice, so I hope to score some more goals this year.”
The midfield also consists of a new look. The only holdovers from last season are sophomore midfielder Chelsea Cline and senior midfielder Kylie Wright, who has also seen time in the backline. Joining Cline and Wright are junior midfielder Charney Burk, senior midfielder and Daily Bruin photographer Dana Wall, and Richmond, the No. 1 recruit in the country coming into the season.
Burk is a transfer from Portland, while Wall is now a regular starter after having spent her previous three seasons coming off the bench. Richmond may be a freshman but is a highly touted one, coming into the season as the Gatorade Player of the Year in her home state of Virginia.
Just like in 2009, the Bruins have so far gone with a two-player frontline. Junior forward Sydney Leroux is coming off a stellar sophomore year in which she scored a team-high 23 goals. The third-team All-American pairs with sophomore forward Zakiya Bywaters, who has made much improvement in her game dating back to the previous season.
“Her consistency has been big,” Leroux said of her fellow striker. “She’s had to take on a larger responsibility, being moved from the midfield to the frontline, but her consistency has been a lot better than from her freshman year, and she has grown as a player.”
Leroux and Bywaters, along with Richmond, were also teammates with the Under-20 U.S. Women’s National Team that competed in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup this summer in Germany.
But international experience aside, UCLA lost a significant amount of veteran savvy.
Last year’s senior defenders Dea Cook and Lauren Wilmoth have graduated, as have former senior forwards Kristina Larsen, Kara Lang and Lauren Cheney.
Also gone is Jenna Belcher, who was a redshirt junior last year. She decided to forgo her last year of eligibility in order to graduate.
The biggest loss is Cheney, a four-time First-Team All-American who was a constant scoring threat last season.
But nevertheless, Leroux remains confident that her frontline, as well as the entire team, will still be successful this year.
“We’ve tried a different system, and we’ve tried to see what works and what doesn’t work,” Leroux said. “But it’s coming together. We’re going to be OK, and we’re going to be good.”