If the past two matches have been any indication, the Bruins are banking on perseverance to guide them through the postseason bedlam.
After grinding out a wild, shoot-out win on Thursday, the UCLA women’s soccer team was back at it again on Saturday, delivering yet another gutsy performance against a similarly relentless No. 4 seed Central Florida team on the way to a 2-1 victory at Drake Stadium.
Coming into the match, the burning question was to what degree the string of injuries that plagued the Bruins (13-7-2) on Thursday ““ a right knee injury to freshman midfielder Jenna Richmond, as well as ankle injuries to senior midfielder Kylie Wright and sophomore midfielder Chelsea Cline ““ Âwould affect their play against the Knights (15-5-3).
As it turned out, both Wright and Cline played significant minutes ““ the former played all 90 minutes of the match ““ and added to the unwavering persona that had coach Jillian Ellis glowing about her team.
“I’m just incredibly pleased that we gutted it out; I thought the game was very reflective of character and spirit,” Ellis said. “It’s the level of character that we knew was in (the players), and now, we’re starting to see it. Our personalities have really come alive, and everyone is contributing.”
The Bruins snared the early lead in the 42nd minute on a seamless set piece. On a corner kick made possible by the efforts of sophomore midfielder Zakiya Bywaters, senior midfielder Dana Wall, also a Daily Bruin photographer, played an arching ball inside the box to senior defender Elise Britt, who headed it into the net for the first goal of her career.
“That was one of the focuses for (Saturday), was to get end-line crossing,” Britt said. “(Zakiya) was doing a great job out wide; she was just taking on her (defender) and got a corner for us, and Dana just played a perfect ball.”
UCLA added to the lead in the second half on a header by junior forward Sydney Leroux off of a left-side cross from senior defender Lauren Barnes in the 49th minute, putting the Bruins up 2-0.
But proving its worth as the No. 4 seed in its regional bracket, Central Florida mounted the inevitable comeback attempt. After UCF sophomore defender Bianca Joswiack notched a goal in the 76th minute to halve UCLA’s lead, the Knights staged a series of frenetic attacks thereafter, firing off four shots Â”“ two on goal ““ in the closing 14 minutes of the game.
In the end, however, it was the Bruins who wound up advancing to the round of 16, the Knights’ rally successfully thwarted.
“We put ourselves on our heels, allowing (Central Florida) the first goal, but I think we did well to keep it tight and stay focused,” Britt said. “After that first goal, we brought it in together and made sure everyone was focused and on the same page. We were going to close out the game.”
Up next for UCLA is a rematch against undefeated Stanford (20-0-2), the same team that came into Drake Stadium and dealt the Bruins a 2-0 loss on Oct. 10.
But as wearying as the first two rounds of the NCAA playoffs have been, the Bruins certainly aren’t shying away from yet another challenge.
“We’re going to keep marching on,” Leroux said. “At this point, I feel like we don’t even need rest. We want to go, and we want to go now. We don’t care who we play; just bring them on.”