UCLA came away from last weekend the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation champions, but that title is not the one it has worked for all season. Though it is nice to be the conference tournament winners, there is only one accomplishment the team is really looking to carry out of this season:
“It’s all about bringing back the national championship,” redshirt junior goalie Matt Rapacz said.
This weekend, UCLA competes for the NCAA title in Berkeley. UCLA won an automatic bid to the tournament when it upset USC for the conference title on Sunday.
Though the Bruins took down the Trojans, they have not yet completely evaded them ““ USC received the tournament’s at-large bid so it is possible that UCLA will face their crosstown rivals for the third time in three weeks this weekend.
“I wouldn’t want to play anyone else,” redshirt sophomore utility Chris Wendt said. “It’s the best rivalry there is.”
But first things first: UCLA faces UC San Diego in the first round.
UCLA beat UCSD recently, but according to coach Adam Wright, that experience does little for the team this weekend. UCLA expects a completely different, stronger team at NCAAs.
But the Bruins are a stronger team as well.
Last year, the team had talent, but it was missing something vital; this season, the Bruins found it ““ a strong bond.
“Were better friends, we’re a lot closer… that made us a better team,” said Wendt.
This week, the MPSF announced individual accolades, with UCLA taking a large share.
Rapacz was named MVP of the conference tournament and Wright was named coach of the year.
“I found out through a friend, I didn’t even know there was an MVP. I was really honored and excited,” said Rapacz, who tallied 31 saves in three overtime games.
“But overall that’s not what I want; I want the championship.”
Rapacz was chosen along with juniors Josh Samuels and Griffin White for the all-tournament team, based on last weekend’s performances.
Samuels, Rapacz, and White were also awarded for all-MPSF honors, spanning the entire season. Also chosen were redshirt senior attacker Cullen Hennessey, freshman attacker Paul Reynolds, and sophomore utilities Cristiano Miriarchi and Aimone Barabino.
“It’s a testament to the work these guys put in, they’re incredible,” coach Wright said. “…Awards are nice, but I know every one of them would give it up to say that they’re the best in the country.”
The tough play of the conference tournament, with all three games decided in overtime, prepared them for the even tougher national stage.
“We did three overtimes, that showed character,” Rapacz said. “We want to build off our defense, that’s what got us through.”
The Bruins have been on an emotional roller coaster, with last weekends tumultuous tournament and the upcoming championship, but they are trying to put that aside.
“It’s difficult to keep emotions in check, but we didn’t accomplish anything yet,” said Wendt.
“No one remembers who wins the conference. Everyone remembers the national champion.”