For a while, it looked like UCLA men’s basketball was going to be the team that could bring home the first national championship of the 2016-2017 academic year. The University of North Carolina won the NCAA men’s basketball championship Monday, so that won’t be the case. With a handful of spring sports still in season, the Daily Bruin Sports editors battle it out to answer the question: Which UCLA team stands the best chance to bring home No. 114?
TuAnh Dam, Sports editor
It’s the newest NCAA sport on campus, but beach volleyball could add a trophy to the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame this spring.
No. 3 UCLA has dropped just two matches this year, including a tight 3-2 loss to No. 1 and defending NCAA champions USC.
With sophomores Megan and Nicole McNamara anchoring court one and steady improvement across the other four courts, the Bruins have gone on a 17-game win streak since starting the season 2-2.
USC will be the main challenge on the road to the championship, as will Florida State and Pepperdine, but UCLA is talented enough and experienced enough to put together a complete game and come away with the trophy in early May.
Women’s water polo
Michael Hull, assistant Sports editor
The UCLA women’s water polo team has only lost one game this year, and 16 of its 17 wins have come by margins of six or more goals.
All in all, the No. 3 Bruins have steamrolled nearly all in their path. The one blemish on their record came by one goal to No. 1 USC – who continues to build on the NCAA women’s water polo consecutive wins record – but what’s more telling is how UCLA learns from its past games.
The one win that didn’t come by nearly double-digit margins was against then-No. 4 California in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational at the end of February. The Bruins won by one goal on a penalty shot with less than half a minute to go, and the next game they played against the Bears they won 10-4, holding the Bears to less than half as many goals as they had in the first go-around.
And that’s going to be extremely important down this home stretch. UCLA have a schedule that features back-to-back-to-back weekends against No. 4 Arizona State, No. 2 Stanford and No. 1 USC, all before the team might have to play two out of the three at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
Regardless of the wins or losses that come in the upcoming weeks, UCLA’s ability to go from being competitive with top-ranked opponents in the first go-around, to far outmatching them in the second is a tell-tale sign that this team has displayed not only the talent necessary to be national champions, but also the ability to grow as the season progresses.
They’ll be the ones to claim No. 114.
David Gottlieb, assistant Sports editor
A lot of things would have to go right, but I think it’s about time UCLA softball’s championship drought comes to an end.
This program can win. Since the Women’s College World Series began in 1982, no other school has won more times than UCLA.
But after failing to pick up a national championship in the Ally Carda era, the Bruins haven’t taken home a national title since 2010, marking the most consecutive years without a championship for UCLA in the history of the WCWS.
Two players are going to need to step up for No. 9 UCLA to make a deep run: redshirt senior pitcher Paige McDuffee and freshman third baseman Bubba Nickles.
Back when UCLA had Carda, the narrative was similar each year. Carda would handle a ton of innings, and eventually the opposition would get to her. The Bruins have another player with Carda’s level of talent this year in redshirt freshman Rachel Garcia.
Lately, McDuffee and Nickles have not been in the circle. McDuffee’s health will decide how many innings she can handle. Nickles, on the other hand, has been acting as a not-so-secret weapon for UCLA.
As a senior in high school, Nickles struck out 308 batters and posted a 0.63 ERA, totaling 20 wins. Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez has said that she’s going to activate Nickles in the circle, but hasn’t yet.
If McDuffee and Nickles can take some innings off Garcia’s plate, the Bruins have the ability to surprise some teams at the WCWS in Oklahoma City.