Undefeated women’s soccer uses deep roster to achieve early-season success
Sophomore defender Brianne Riley has started all four of No. 3 UCLA women’s soccer’s matches this season, logging the second-most minutes of any player on the backline. (Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor)
By Jacqueline Dzwonczyk
March 2, 2021 1:37 p.m.
Four games into the season, the Bruins have already made a deep dive into their bench.
No. 3 UCLA women’s soccer (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) has rotated 21 players into its lineup across the opening matches, including seven freshmen who are part of the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. The Bruins’ scoring distribution has been similarly dispersed, with their 10 total goals coming from seven different players.
“I think that’s what makes us super dangerous this year is that we have so many players that can come in and bring a difference on the field,” said senior midfielder Delanie Sheehan. “Everyone has their strengths. When anyone comes in, the level doesn’t drop.”
Sophomore forward Mia Fishel has started all four games up top for UCLA, accompanied by a group of seniors in the center midfield – Sheehan, Marley Canales and Olivia Athens.
The wingers for the Bruins have seen more rotation, from freshmen forwards Reilyn Turner and Megan Edelman – who have played out wide in every match – to freshman forward Kaila Novak, who got the start against Arizona.
“Playing the flank position for us is a lot of work, you got to get up and down the field, take on (defenders), get crosses in,” said coach Amanda Cromwell. “I think (Novak) was dangerous getting some balls in the mix. She also plays some outside back for us, so she’s very versatile, and she’s going to be needed in both positions.”
Novak isn’t the only player who has rotated onto the backline. Senior Lucy Parker is the only defender to remain on the field for every minute of action so far, and there has yet to be a consistent defensive lineup.
Sophomore defender Brianne Riley, who has logged the second-most minutes of any defender, said the player fluctuation can work well if UCLA keeps up its communication.
“Whoever is in back there, just as long as we’re communicating and on the same page, it makes it pretty seamless,” Riley said. “We’re all practicing together, so when it comes time for the game it’s just about communication and organization, and it works just fine with pretty much anyone back there.”
There will be more regularity on the backline once senior defender Karina Rodriguez – who started at center back alongside Parker all last season and in the first two games this season – returns from her quarantine after a stint with the Mexican National Team.
Cromwell said she also expects a few more players to return from injury in the coming weeks as well, which will further bolster the Bruins’ subbing opportunities.
“We’re still going to be discovering things about our team,” Cromwell said. “We have a lot of players who can play multiple positions, and we’re going to need players coming back from injury, and (Rodriguez is) still gone. … We get these players back and it’s going to be awesome because we’re going to have even more weapons.”