When Amanda Cromwell addressed her team after Friday’s season-ending loss, the coach focused on a specific group of players.
“It was all about the seniors tonight,” Cromwell said. “It’s just sad. You’re proud of them, but you’re also trying to comfort them.”
No. 2 seed UCLA women’s soccer (18-5-1, 8-3-0 Pac-12) fell one game short of the 2019 NCAA Division I College Cup final, falling 4-1 to No. 1 seed Stanford (23-1-0, 11-0-0) on Friday. This season marked the last shot at a title for the Bruins’ departing senior class, a group of eight players who have combined for 33,769 minutes played over the past four years.
Senior defender Kaiya McCullough has logged more minutes than any other player on the roster, missing just two games in four years as a starter. McCullough said Saturday’s loss was disappointing, but she will look back at her time at UCLA fondly.
“We were just in our locker room crying. … Obviously it sucks,” McCullough said. “But that’s the game we play – soccer doesn’t always go your way. I don’t think it’s the end of our careers by any means. UCLA was a really good place for us to get experience and meet my best friends for life, even beyond soccer.”
When McCullough and the other seniors joined UCLA in 2016, the Bruins were coming off a season in which they finished with the worst record in program history at 8-10-1. The then-freshmen helped UCLA return to the postseason the following year, where the Bruins made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Over the next two seasons, UCLA went 36-6-5 and made two more trips to the playoffs, but failed to win the national title each time.
This year, the Bruins qualified for their fourth consecutive postseason after a second place finish in the Pac-12 with an 8-3-0 conference record. UCLA won five straight games to close out the regular season and its first four playoff matches, including over reigning champion Florida State for the second time this year to reach the College Cup. However, the Bruins’ postseason run was cut short by the Cardinal for the second time in three years.
The senior class also includes the Bruins’ co-captains, midfielder Jessie Fleming and goalkeeper Teagan Micah. Fleming, who has been co-captain since 2017, said she would remember the bonds she has formed with the other seniors.
“Obviously, they mean a lot,” Fleming said. “They’re my best friends. We’ve been through four seasons together, so we’ve seen each other get injured and we’ve seen each other grow as players and people.”
Looking ahead to next season, Cromwell said she will welcome a new class of recruits to fill the gaps left behind, including six spots in the starting lineup left by the departed seniors. This year’s freshman class helped the Bruins get a head start on that task, with six freshmen seeing game action over the course of the season.
Freshman forward Mia Fishel made the all-Pac-12 third team after leading UCLA with 14 goals – good for sixth in the conference and first among freshmen. Freshman forward Kali Trevithick and freshman midfielder Rachel Lowe also tallied goals for the Bruins in their debut season.
On defense, freshman defender Brianne Riley played in 18 games for UCLA, including her first-ever start against Arizona State on Oct. 6.
In 2020, the Bruins will also have a number of key veterans returning to the team, including junior forward Ashley Sanchez, who broke the school record for most career assists with 42 this season. Sanchez also tied the UCLA single-season assist record for the second straight year with 15.
Although the Bruins will bid farewell to their seniors, Cromwell said she is excited to watch them continue their careers.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Cromwell said. “This senior class is one for the ages – phenomenal group. I can’t wait to see what they do – pro, national team, whatever comes their way. I’m just really proud to be their coach.”