Not much went well for UCLA women’s soccer in 2015, as the team suffered through its worst season in recent history and missed the NCAA Tournament.
By contrast, 2016 could not have begun on a more positive note.
On signing day, the Bruins announced a star-studded recruiting class featuring two of the most promising young stars in North America – USA’s forward Mallory Pugh and Canada’s freshman midfielder Jessie Fleming.
The 2015 recruits, who arrived in Westwood last fall with minimal fanfare, were already under the radar. Now, they appeared to be an afterthought.
As Lee Corso would emphatically say, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Three games into the 2016 season, coach Amanda Cromwell’s under-the-radar bunch is starting to show that they belong in the UCLA gold and blue.
Redshirt freshman forward/midfielder Anika Rodriguez missed 2015 because of injury, robbing her of a chance to strut her stuff. Now, she’s healthy and making key plays for the Bruins. Her intelligent movement in the attacking third and solid link-up play with the forwards and midfielders are qualities that allow not only her, but also the players around her to excel. So far, Rodriguez has notched two assists. That’s a solid number this early in the season. If she continues to perform at a high level, then she will be instrumental to the team’s successes going forward.
The only member of the 2015 recruiting class to start last season was center-back Hailie Mace – now a sophomore.
Mace has retained her starting position at the back thus far and provided some solid displays in the midst of a relatively young and inexperienced defense. Of course, there’s a learning curve ahead.
The Florida game proved that. Mace and her center-back partner freshman Kaiya McCullough had a difficult time handling the strong Gator attack, which torched the Bruins for four goals.
Still, Mace’s partnership with the highly touted McCullough will be a vital ingredient in the Bruins’ recipe for success moving forward.
Like Rodriguez, redshirt freshman Chloe Castaneda also sat out last season. With players such as Fleming, Rodriguez, and sophomore college import forward Julia Hernandez currently in front of her in attacking midfield, Castaneda faces a battle to get solid minutes.
To this point, she has proven a useful weapon off the bench.
Were it not for a sublime goal from senior forward Amber Munerlyn in the opening game against SDSU, Castaneda would have had the moment of the season thus far.
Castaneda came up with a goal when the Bruins needed it against a stubborn Texas A&M side, and it was a beauty. The ball lasered off her foot into the top right corner, leaving the goalkeeper helpless and sending UCLA on its way to victory.
Three games in, that by itself would justify optimism.
Castaneda, however, revealed a grittier side to her game against Florida. She worked herself into dangerous positions and drew two penalties, one of which turned into a goal. More such performances will see her push for greater playing time.
It’s early in the season and there are reasons to preach caution. More tests lie ahead for the Bruins, and the good work must continue, but the positive signs are there.
UCLA’s 2015 recruiting class looks prime to make a solid impact in 2016.