One game stands between UCLA women’s soccer and a trip to the NCAA College Cup in Orlando, Florida.
Princeton pulled off a 2-1 upset against top-seeded North Carolina last week to punch a ticket to this weekend’s round-of-eight matchup. The fourth-seeded and 13th-ranked Tigers (16-2-1) will take the field at Drake Stadium to face the second-seeded and fourth-ranked Bruins (18-2-2) on Saturday night.
“The (Tigers) have a really fast, strong frontrunner, some skillful midfielders, and a really strong defense,” said coach Amanda Cromwell. “Princeton, they’re not a surprise because they’ve been ranked top-25 all season.”
UCLA earned its own spot in the Elite Eight by denying No. 3 seed Virginia from advancing with a 2-1 win Sunday after redshirt sophomore forward Anika Rodriguez scored her second consecutive game-winning goal.
Rodriguez was named the UCLA/Muscle Milk Student Athlete of the Week on Monday. Top Drawer Soccer named the duo of Rodriguez and freshman forward Ashley Sanchez the Team of the Week for their success over the past two rounds of the tournament.
After playing two games in three days, UCLA had a week to recharge and regroup. Sophomore goalkeeper Teagan Micah said the team took a day off before Saturday to recover.
“The girls were pretty sore after the Friday (to) Sunday turnaround,” Micah said. “But then we’re going to hit the ground running for training.”
Their next obstacle will determine whether or not the Bruins will travel east for the NCAA Tournament semifinals. Saturday will be UCLA’s 14th appearance in the quarterfinals, in which the Bruins hold a 9-4 record.
“We’re focusing on recovering and getting healthy,” Cromwell said. “It’s really about being light this week, getting touches … and just being as fresh as possible for Saturday.”
Princeton will be making its third appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals. The Tigers are ranked 11th in the nation for scoring offense with 2.26 goals per game.
“We don’t ever let anybody dictate the game,” Cromwell said. “When we play our best is when we’re dictating play, so that’s what we always try to do – possess it through the midfield, try and score early and put them on their heels a little bit.”
With the No. 1 seed Tar Heels eliminated from the tournament, the Bruins will continue its hosting duties Saturday, giving UCLA a home-field advantage for the last time this year.
“As the one seed, that’s always the advantage, being able to host,” Cromwell said after the win against Virginia. “As the two seed, I feel like we were given a little gift to be able to stay home.”
For co-captains Zoey Goralski and Claire Winter, Saturday marks their last game at Drake Stadium. The two redshirt senior defenders, along with sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming, have co-captained the Bruins over the course of this season.
“This has been the goal – coming to UCLA, you come to win championships,” Goralski said. “So going into this is super nerve-racking … but this is the kind of experience you want to have.”