To play in the championship match this weekend, UCLA women’s soccer must first face an opponent hungry for its first national championship in program history – Duke University.
The second-seeded Bruins (19-2-2) will take on the top-seeded Blue Devils (23-2-0) on Friday night at Orlando City Stadium. Stanford and South Carolina, the other two teams in the Final Four, will face off in the first semifinal match Friday.
“I’m just really proud of our team effort, the total commitment,” said coach Amanda Cromwell after the win over Princeton on Sunday. “And the fact that it’s in Orlando, where I coached for 14 years at Central Florida, is really special.”
Saturday represents UCLA’s first appearance in the College Cup since the Bruins won their only national title in 2013. Redshirt senior defenders Claire Winter and Zoey Goralski are the only remaining members of the championship team four years ago.
“I see a lot of team chemistry … the mentality, too, everyone is on the same page,” Winter said. “In order to win a national championship, everyone has to believe with everything that they have that we’re going to win, and I definitely see that in this team.”
Offensively, the two teams share similar stats.
The Blue Devils are ranked eighth in the country with 2.40 goals per game and third in goals overall with 60, while the Bruins figures of 2.35 and 54 put them at No. 9 and No. 4 in the same categories.
Defensively, Duke holds the edge over UCLA as the Blue Devils rank inside the top 10 for goals allowed per game at 0.39 and goals allowed overall with 10.
The Bruins fall just inside the top 50 in comparison, allowing goals at a rate of 0.76 per game and conceding a total of 18.
The two have faced similar opponents this season, matching up against Virginia twice and Utah once over the course of the year, holding an identical 3-0 record against them.
Duke has yet to win a National Championship in women’s soccer, however.
“We’re not just going down there to visit Mickey Mouse in Orlando,” said Duke coach Robbie Church to Duke Sports after Duke’s win over Baylor on Nov. 24. “We’re going down there to win the thing.”
The Blue Devils are seeking their second championship match appearance in three years after losing to Penn State 1-0 in the 2015 championship game. Although Duke was eliminated in the Elite Eight last year, it earned the top seed in 2017.
“In the tournament, we don’t really look at ourselves as what we’re seeded,” Winter said. “But obviously we know that every team we play, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Several members of UCLA’s roster collected awards as the Bruins headed to Orlando.
Sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming and junior forward Hailie Mace were named first team All-Americans for 2017.
Fleming and Mace also received All-West Region honors along with freshman forward Ashley Sanchez, and sophomore defender Kaiya McCullough picked up second-team honors.
Ten Bruins earned Pac-12 All-Academic honors, the second-most in program history.
“We’re in a really good place right now, just peaking at the right time,” Winter said. “I’d say we probably played our best soccer all year against Princeton.”