The look on UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo’s face was a mixture of terror and jubilation as he attempted to outrun his pursuers. The fear was understandable, as he tried to escape a shower of ice water on the chilly afternoon.
But his joy was even more obvious.
With its 2-1 victory over San Diego State on Friday, UCLA won the Pac-12 conference title for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
So when Salcedo, soaked with frigid water, said he was freezing, he couldn’t help from smiling.
“We’ve won several championships over the last 10 years and it never gets old, you never get tired of it, you always want to do it and the guys did it,” Salcedo said.
But the team certainly seems to have a flair for the dramatic. After a win over Washington two weeks ago, UCLA (13-2-3, 8-1-1 Pac-12) needed just two wins to clinch the title, but the team did it in the most stress-inducing way possible.
Their first win came in double overtime against Stanford, but they followed that up with a double overtime tie to Cal. That left the Bruins just one final game to get the job done.
“The longer you let it go, the more nervous you get,” said senior midfielder/forward Ryan Hollingshead.
But the Bruins were able to look at the pressure in a positive way.
“It’s almost like this was the first playoff game for us, so there was no more losing, no more tying,” said junior forward Reed Williams.
Even in getting the win, the Bruins made sure the game did not lack drama.
After failing to convert on several chances in the first half, UCLA fell behind after a San Diego State (7-9-3, 1-7-2) goal just eight minutes into the second period. However, with the pressure at its highest, the Bruins responded just two minutes later with a goal of their own courtesy of Hollingshead, then followed it up with a second goal, Williams’ strike in the 72nd minute, to take the lead.
“They scored early in the second half and we were on our heels a little bit. But I was really proud of the fact that we found a way to score right away. The fact that we scored very quickly after they scored was key to us winning the game,” Salcedo said.
While the conference championship came down to the season’s final regular season game, No. 5 UCLA’s path to this point began much earlier.
“We start the road to winning a championship in the offseason and they’ve worked really hard,” Salcedo said.
“You get together in the middle of August to hopefully win a championship and win the Pac-12, and that’s what we did.”
The Bruins now set their sights on earning another crown ““ the NCAA championship. On Monday, it was announced that UCLA earned the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will play its first match on Sunday after receiving a first round bye.
UCLA earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as the Pac-12 champions.
With the conference title coinciding with Senior Day, it made the moment all the more special for the Bruins.
“I think it just summed up a really good four years here,” Hollingshead said.
“Playing soccer here has been such an honor and such a blessing and I’m so thankful for just the opportunity to be here and be playing. … We come here, we play to win, we play to be champions but we also have an amazing time and an amazing team, so it means a lot.”