“It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it,” reads the quote from the venerable coach John Wooden.
Of course, a fast start is certainly nothing to bemoan. The No. 2 UCLA women’s soccer team certainly isn’t complaining, having shot out of the gates to a 7-0-1 record before the conference season has even begun, including wins over current top-25 squads in Florida, Tennessee and a tie with Pepperdine.
“I’m really happy with our results. We came together; our first couple of games were really hard, but we pulled out the win,” senior forward Sydney Leroux said. “I think we’re in a good place to start the next phase of our season, and I think we’re ready.”
That next phase of the season is the inaugural season of the Pac-12, a rugged conference featuring, for starters, the second-ranked UCLA Bruins and the top-ranked Stanford Cardinal. If the Bruins take Wooden’s sentiment to heart, this is where his wisdom will become action.
It starts today, as UCLA takes on the University of Washington, the two squads squaring off at Drake Stadium. The Huskies have not looked great in the early going, having posted a 3-3-2 record so far.
The Bruins will be heavily favored against the Huskies. UCLA features talent up and down the lineup, starting with Leroux and ending with 12 talented true freshmen, two of whom ““ midfielder Samantha Mewis and defender Ally Courtnall ““ already have three goals each.
That doesn’t mean much to the Bruins, though.
“Every single game we’ve played has been the most important game of the season. So, on Friday, the most important game of the season is against Washington,” Leroux said. “After that, it will be whoever our next opponent is. And it’s going to keep going like that until we get where we want to be.”
It doesn’t hurt that this team has a little something extra to play for against the Huskies.
“They beat us on our home field last year for the first time in a long time,” coach B.J. Snow said.
Not to mention that it was on national TV. That win for the Huskies was their third win ever over the Bruins.
“We’re definitely out for revenge,” Leroux said. “It’s going to be a very different game.”
Revenge aside, players echoed the thought that each game is the most important.
“We don’t take our games lightly,” junior defender Lucretia Lee said. “We treat every game as if it’s the same.”
That’s great, but Lee has her own added incentive for this game ““ she herself hails from the Evergreen State. So yes, this game means something to her, other than being the next game on the schedule.
“Well, it’s my home state, so we have to win,” Lee said with a laugh.
And if they do? Well, then that’s simply one more step toward living up to Wooden’s legacy.