Like last year, the Bruins were faced with penalty kicks to keep their season alive – but this time they couldn’t pull out the win.
Despite the loss, No. 2-seeded UCLA women’s soccer (17-3-2, 9-2-0 Pac-12) persevered through injuries and missing personnel all season to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
“We had so many obstacles and challenges that we had to overcome, and injuries kind of threw us off a bit, but we grew from last year and I’m proud of that,” said junior goalkeeper Teagan Micah.
The Bruins played without senior forward Hailie Mace for nine of 22 games, and without junior midfielder Jessie Fleming for 11, as they were playing with the U.S. and Canadian national teams, respectively.
UCLA also had to play without redshirt junior forward Anika Rodriguez, who was the team’s leading scorer before hurting her ACL, and junior defender Jacey Pederson, whose injury forced other players to adapt to new positions.
The Bruins’ season included notable performances from a host of players, despite the team being knocked out of the tournament two rounds earlier than last year.
Sophomore forward Ashley Sanchez tied the school record for single-season assists with 15, and broke the record for most assists in an NCAA tournament with seven. Sanchez also broke the record for longest point-scoring streak with a goal or assist in the Bruins’ 13 final games, 12 of which were UCLA wins.
A UCLA player was named Pac-12 Player of the Week eight times throughout the season, and both starting center backs – sophomore Karina Rodriguez and junior Kaiya McCullough – earned the recognition twice.
The Bruins saw goals from 15 different players and assists from 12.
Micah logged four saves in the quarterfinal match, bringing her to 199 career saves – the fourth most in UCLA history. The junior also moved to fourth in career shutouts and wins, with 26 and 46, respectively.
The Bruins’ nonconference schedule in September included three consecutive away games against ranked opponents. UCLA tied then-No. 22 Florida and lost to then-No. 4 Florida State.
The Bruins proceeded to drop their first two conference matches to Washington State and then-No. 1 Stanford before beginning a 12-game winning streak that lasted until the quarterfinals, when they fell to No. 1-seeded North Carolina (20-3-2, 10-0-0 ACC).
Sophomore midfielder Marley Canales – who took the game-winning penalty kick in last year’s win over then-No.1-seeded Duke in the semifinals – said penalty kicks are a hard way to decide a match.
“Penalty kicks suck,” Canales said. “Last year we were able to get it done in (penalty kicks) and this year we were on the other side of it. It’s hard to step up and put yourself in that position – it’s easy to do it in training, but once the game comes around it takes confidence.”
Then-sophomore goalkeeper Micah saved the Blue Devils’ fourth penalty kick in last year’s semifinal match.
This year the junior was replaced by redshirt freshman goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy in the net for penalties – but was in the lineup to take a kick.
“We practice (penalty kicks) as soon as postseason starts, so there’s a top five and a top 10 and it’s set before the game,” said coach Amanda Cromwell. “(Micah) was in the kicking group and (Brzykcy) is a specialist at (penalty kicks).”
Micah was fifth in the lineup and never got the chance to take her shot. Senior forward Julia Hernandez and Fleming missed their penalty kicks, enabling UNC to advance on penalty kicks 4-2.
UCLA will graduate two seniors, Mace and Hernandez, this year, but will be joined by an eight-player incoming class.
“Next year is going to be huge for us because we have a huge incoming class coming in and juniors that are going to be seniors,” Canales said. “We’re excited for next year because we have a group of very special players.”