The Karate Kid is a classic coming-of-age story. Young Daniel LaRusso moves from New Jersey to California, and is immediately bullied by the students of the Cobra Kai dojo. He is forced to grow up in a hurry, learns karate from Mr. Miyagi, and by the end, his opponents have to fight dirty to even have a chance.
What does this have to do with the UCLA women’s soccer team? In a town where everything is either already a movie script or simply waiting to be, it has everything to do with women’s soccer.
You see, the UCLA women’s soccer team is going through its own coming-of-age story. Twelve of the Bruins’ 28 players are youthful true freshmen from all over the United States (and one from New Zealand). If the team is serious about its title aspirations, it will need the young girls to mature and mature fast.
Not to worry, according to coach B.J. Snow. These 17- and 18-year-old girls are already grown-ups in the game of soccer.
“Age doesn’t matter. The game doesn’t know how old you are. So it doesn’t matter if you are 17 years old, 25 years old, 30 years old, a good soccer player is a good soccer player,” Snow said. “Experience isn’t an issue. It’s not an excuse for us, and never will be an excuse for us.”
If early season results are any indication, Snow might just be right. Through the non-conference schedule so far, the Bruins are 6-0-1, and freshmen have been featured throughout the starting lineup all season.
And none of this is a surprise to Snow.
“We’re the ones who recruited them, ” Snow said. “If we didn’t think they had the ability to step in right away, we wouldn’t have recruited them.”
Even so, one does not simply walk into college. Especially here at UCLA, where both athletics and academics are a far cry above those of high school, it’s a distinction the freshmen class has noticed.
“Here, they treat us like professionals,” said Katelyn Rowland, a freshman who has been starting in the net for UCLA. “They expect so much from you every day, so you have to come focused and ready to play.”
You’d think that for girls whose high school graduation was a scant few months ago, coming to UCLA and being pressed into service early against tough non-conference foes on the road, like highly ranked Tennessee and Florida, would provide extraordinary pressure.
It’s proven thus far, however, no more pressure than the Bruin freshmen can handle. In fact, they even seem to like it. “I think it’s good pressure. You want to do well, not only for yourself, but for the team. Everyone holds each other accountable,” freshman defender Abby Dahlkemper said. Dahlkemper has been a fixture in the Bruin backline, stepping into the big shoes left by departed senior Lauren Barnes. “I think that’s what you need to be successful.”
Successful? At UCLA, success is measured in championships. Could a team full of freshmen really win a national championship?
That’s an important question for senior forward and leading scorer Sydney Leroux. For a player whose soccer future is certainly far from over, her UCLA career nearly is.
“This is my last season. More than ever I want a national championship,” Leroux said. “UCLA has never won a championship, and that’s why I came here, because I wanted to do something about it. I think that’s why they came here as well.”
Have no fear, Leroux. This freshmen class is on the same page.
“Our class wants to be part of history,” Rowland said.
“I think this is the year we can really potentially win it all,” Dahlkemper added.
“Going into college, everyone wants to win a national championship. So we all came in here thinking this is the place,” freshman midfielder Samantha Mewis said. “It’s a mutual goal for us.”
Snow is there, too.
“People come to school here because they want to play for national championships every year. That’s not something we have to talk about because they all came in with that expectation,” Snow said.
And to think, this is year one with these freshmen. The future is clearly bright, and UCLA looks as if it is ready to resume its dominant identity. “The goal of our program is to continue to have success every year. It’s not like they were brought in to build something; the success was already here,” Snow said.
Of course, the Bruins still have no women’s soccer championship banners. But if all goes according to script this year, UCLA will leave Johnny from Cobra Kai on the mat, and walk away with the title.