It’s always a good thing when a team clinches a conference title before the end of the regular season. The team gets a chance at some relief, and the stakes of those last remaining games may not seem that high anymore.
But all that changes for the Pac-12 champion UCLA women’s soccer team when the last game of its season is against a team that wears cardinal and gold.
While first-year UCLA women’s soccer coach Amanda Cromwell may be new to Westwood, and thus new to Bruin traditions, senior midfielder Jenna Richmond said that being around 33 Bruins has made Cromwell well acquainted with the bad blood between UCLA and USC, whom the Bruins play on Thursday.
“I’m sure she knows. We always say that they always give us that little ‘Uh-oh, USC,’ but I think we’re all ready,” Richmond said.
But the team sees the final game of the regular season as a must-win for reasons beyond a rivalry between the two universities that began in 1929. One example can be traced to what happened when the teams clashed last season.
“Last year, they knocked us out of potentially getting a No. 1 or 2 seed in the tournament, so there’s definitely a little revenge,” said junior defender Abby Dahlkemper.
Though the Pac-12 standings might reflect a mismatch between the Pac-12 champion and the No. 10 team in the conference for Thursday’s game, Cromwell expects the Trojans to enter Drake Stadium with fires in their bellies, ready to steal a win. That’s something she wants her to team to be ready for.
“There’s going to be a lot of passion involved in there because ‘SC had some tough results as of late, so they’re going to be desperate for results, and so we have to know that going in,” Cromwell said.
UCLA’s wins over Oregon and Oregon State last weekend brought more than just the Pac-12 title back to Westwood. The team’s two victories were both shutouts, which improves the team’s goals-against average to .306, once again ranking UCLA as the top defense in the nation.
Cromwell said that once the postseason begins after the regular-season conclusion against USC, UCLA will rely on the same hard work that has earned the team shutouts on 12 different occasions.
“Our whole body of work all season long is what contributes to a run in the post-season, so all the games we played early on non-conference, all the conference games – it’s prepared us to have run in the post-season, and this team is so hungry,” Cromwell said. “This isn’t something that’s just like, ‘Oh, we’re just going to sit back and be happy with the Pac-12 Championship.’ This team is so hungry you can feel it; they all want to get to the Final Four and win a national championship.”