As the ball hit the back of the net in the 84th minute of Friday’s match, the UCLA women’s soccer team breathed a huge sigh of relief. The pressure to finish the regular season with a sweep slipped away this weekend as the Bruins defeated Arizona and Arizona State to end conference play with a three-game win streak.
After narrowly avoiding an upset against the Wildcats on Friday, UCLA came out strong on Sunday, scoring in the third minute to take a 1-0 lead against the Sun Devils and finishing the game with three goals, its highest total since Oct. 15 against Oregon State.
For coach Jillian Ellis, the game against Arizona was a test of mental endurance that UCLA was finally able to pass.
“The players knew that Friday night was a must-win match,” Ellis said. “That is a lot of pressure and they held tough. To score in the 84th minute, that is part of the game because you have got to push through and find a way to win.”
Junior forward Sydney Leroux, who scored the lead-off goal on Sunday, felt that the Bruins’ early advantage against the Sun Devils was a welcome change after Friday’s nerve-racking win.
“It took a lot of pressure off of us, and it was definitely better than scoring in the 84th minute on Friday,” Leroux said. “That was a stressful game because we were on our toes the whole time and the match could have gone both ways. It felt good to be leading right off the bat on Sunday.”
Leroux was responsible for three of the four Bruin goals this weekend, including Friday night’s game-winner, a shot off of a deflected pass by freshman midfielder Jenna Richmond that landed in the far-right corner of the post.
Having finished high school in Arizona, Leroux was welcomed to Tempe by her mother, who attended the game on Sunday.
“It was awesome because I love having my family there for support,” she said. “Both my mom and my fiance came, so it was really nice to have them watch me and see us have a good game.”
Scoring her 12th goal of the season, Leroux doubled UCLA’s lead in the 58th minute when she received a pass from sophomore midfielder Zakiya Bywaters and dribbled past multiple defenders before launching a shot from 30 yards into the net.
Less than 10 minutes later, Barnes shut down any hope for a Sun Devil comeback, sending a free kick into the top left corner of the net for her fifth goal of the season.
“The same thing goes through my head every time,” Barnes said of taking free kicks. “I just think about my technique and staying relaxed. Those are really important to the team, especially since the game is based off of set pieces, so I try to stay focused and I’m glad it paid off.”
Despite being outshot 11-7, UCLA dominated possession on Sunday, controlling the ball for nearly 56 minutes of the game. Ellis believes that the Bruins’ performance this weekend is the type of play the team has been striving to achieve all season.
“To not concede a goal and to score is ideal, so we are going to have to keep pushing offensively and our defense has to stay strong,” Ellis said. “Is this a good way to end our season and begin playoffs? It certainly is, and the players feel good about it.”