New Mexico 0
This has been a season of many firsts for the No. 2 UCLA women’s soccer team: the first season as a head coach for B.J. Snow; the first season for about half of UCLA’s freshmen starters; the first season in the newly minted Pac-12.
Friday marked another first for many of UCLA’s players, as the first round of the NCAA tournament began in earnest. UCLA, despite a sparkling record which included only one loss to top-ranked Stanford, was given a second seed and a tough matchup against New Mexico.
The Bruins (16-1-3), however, escaped their first NCAA tournament exposure of the year with a 1-0 win over the Lobos to advance to the second round. It was not a pretty win by any means but Snow isn’t complaining about what is his first postseason win as a head coach.
“Every win in the tournament is a good win, so it feels good,” Snow said.
Somewhat uncharacteristically, Snow admitted a small measure of nervousness about his freshmen playing their first tournament game. Fans and pundits would be worried about the extensive lack of experience in the linuep, but Snow has been consistently unconcerned with that issue throughout the regular season.
Those fears materialized in the first half, as an organized New Mexico defense shut down the Bruin attack and Mountain West Offensive Conference Player of the Year Jennifer Williams found room to maneuver in the UCLA back line.
“We were definitely a little bit (nervous),” freshman forward Kylie McCarthy said. “We’ve never played in this big of, well, anything before, really. But it’s more exciting. It’s our first college Division I NCAA tournament, and that’s exciting.”
As much as the Bruin freshmen might have been nervous Friday night, it was those same freshmen who came through in the end. McCarthy scored the lone goal of the evening, and freshman goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland came up huge on several occasions.
“You’ve got to be confident if you’re a goalkeeper, and (Rowland) has that quiet confidence about her,” Snow said. “In the tournament, you have to have a goalkeeper that’s going to make a couple big saves a game. … Katelyn came up with two big saves for us.”
After some first half nerves, the Bruins showed up much stronger in the second half, finding offensive space for senior forward Sydney Leroux and improving their possession and defensive positioning.
“We came out slow in the first half, but I think it was a lot better in the second half for us, so we feel good,” Rowland said. “It’s just about coming out (in the first half) with that same intensity we had in the second half. Going forward, we feel really confident.”
UCLA clearly wasn’t the only team with early nerves, as every other favorite in its bracket was upset in the first round.
The Bruins received a boost from being at home, where, should they continue to win, they would play the second and third rounds next weekend. Up next, UCLA will face the University of San Diego on Friday and either Miami (FL) or Long Beach State on Sunday.