(Nathan Koketsu/Daily Bruin)
With the 2021-2022 season for UCLA Athletics beginning this month, the Daily Bruin Sports staff takes a look at the expectations for all 21 varsity teams, discussing the best- and worst-case scenarios for each club along with one key storyline surrounding each roster.
Olivia Simons, assistant Sports editor
Best case: Middle of the pack in Pac-12
2022 is sure to be a rebuilding year for the Bruins, who lost their leaders in nearly every offensive category as well as the heart of their pitching staff to the MLB Draft last month. Despite being preseason favorites to take the conference last season, UCLA fell to the No. 4 spot in the Pac-12 behind Arizona, Oregon and Stanford, going 18-12 in conference play. The draft took 10 Bruins, while only three drafted players will leave Stanford, four will leave Oregon and seven will depart from Arizona. Now, with UCLA’s entire starting rotation and the majority of its starting lineup out the door, it will take time for the blue and gold to be able to rework the makeup of its team. Buoying the Bruins’ chances of a return to form is their talent-laden class of recruits, ranked No. 4 by Baseball America. But coach John Savage will have a tall task at hand to revamp almost every aspect of his young club before they are ready to contend with the best of the Pac-12.
Worst case: End season under .500 and without a postseason berth
Even with last year’s phenoms in the lineup, the Bruins dipped in and out of the rankings and could only make it to a Regional in the postseason. Now, with new faces entering the program and only a handful of players left who got significant playing time in the Lubbock Regional, the Bruins could find themselves unable to win even half of their contests this season as they work to rebuild the team, possibly finishing the 2022 season without a postseason berth for the first time in five years. Should key players, such as the Karros brothers –rising sophomore corner infielder Kyle and rising junior right-hander Jared – and rising sophomore right-hander Max Rajcic, be unable to fill in as leaders on the new team, the chances for a winning season remain in question for this year’s squad.
Storyline to watch: Out with the old, in with the new
The one thing the draft did not tear into was the Bruins’ top-ranked incoming freshman class. Of the 13 players who signed to join UCLA this year, only one will depart for the majors, leaving the class mostly intact to bolster a stripped-down Bruin club. Among the incoming class is left-hander Gage Jump, who after deciding not to sign with the San Diego Padres after being drafted last month could take over a spot in the UCLA rotation. Outfielder Nick McLain, brother of newly-minted Cincinnati Red and former Bruin shortstop Matt McLain, has the potential to provide a productive bat in the lineup.
Jon Christon, Sports editor
Best case: National champions
Remember four months ago when UCLA was cutting down the nets en route to its first Final Four appearance since 2008? When the Bruins were a miraculous half-court shot away from advancing to the national championship game? With the whole team coming back, there’s nothing stopping UCLA from repeating that and more in 2022. Rising junior guard Johnny Juzang’s return is a big boost for the Bruins’ chances of repeated success, and if he can play as he did in March and April of 2021, then the sky’s the limit. New additions – like five-star forward Peyton Watson and Rutgers grad transfer center Myles Johnson – can elevate the ceiling for this year’s team even beyond last year’s overachievement.
Worst case: Mid-tier Pac-12
On the other hand, remember five months ago when UCLA lost four straight games before just barely making the NCAA tournament? The Bruins struggled down the stretch last year and, with essentially the same team coming back, it could certainly happen again. If Juzang comes back down to earth after his all-time performance in March, UCLA will face the difficulties of finding scoring from the edges of its roster that lack any sort of scoring punch. The Bruins’ floor will come with their defense, which should rank among the best in the country with coach Mick Cronin on the sidelines, but it’s a very real possibility that the team’s offense derails any sort of honeymoon season.
Storyline to watch: Peyton Watson’s integration
The overwhelming narrative surrounding this year’s team will be the Final Four run from last campaign, but the more interesting narrative for this current team will be the integration of Watson. This is uncharted territory for Cronin, who has coached just two five-stars in his collegiate head-coaching career that dates back to 2003. UCLA hasn’t even had a five-star recruit take the court for the team since Moses Brown, Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes in 2019. The question will be whether or not Cronin gives minutes and a substantial role to Watson early in the season based on his talent, or if Watson will start in a limited role like most Cronin recruits do in their first year.
Francis Moon, assistant Sports editor
Best case: Deep March Madness run
UCLA women’s basketball has reloaded its roster with four transfers, one freshman recruit and the addition of four players who were not with the team last season. The Bruins struggled with injuries and depth last season, so new faces like redshirt senior forward Ilmar’I Thomas – the ninth-leading scorer in the NCAA last season with Cincinnati – and sophomore forwards Izzy Anstey and Angela Dugalić – two of the three tallest players on the roster – will be key to a deep postseason run. The team that coach Cori Close called the “second-most talented roster we’ve had” could have the necessary balance of depth, experience and talent to bounce back this year after UCLA failed to make the Sweet Sixteen last season for the first time since 2015.
Worst case: Middle of the conference
A significant roster shift rarely comes without its hurdles on the court. In a contrary outlook, the Bruins could struggle to find momentum and display an overall lack of chemistry throughout the regular season. It doesn’t help that they play in perhaps the most competitive conference in the country. Stanford and Arizona matched up in the national championship game last season, marking the first time two Pac-12 schools have been the last two teams standing, while another two – UCLA and Oregon – were also ranked in the top 15 of the postseason Coaches Poll. If the loss of forward Michaela Onyenwere hits the team harder than expected, it could lead to an inconsistent regular season and another early exit in the NCAA tournament.
Storyline to watch: A new leader on offense
For each of the past three seasons, the Bruins were led in scoring by Onyenwere. With the forward now playing for the New York Liberty, the Bruins must find a new source of go-to offense. Junior guard Charisma Osborne and graduate student guard Natalie Chou – the second- and third-leading scorers last season, respectively – will look to shoulder much of the load. Fun storylines to watch include who else can step up and how Close reorients the offense, particularly with the major roster changes. After contributing 17 points and a team-leading 3.8 assists per game last season while also earning Pac-12 All-Defensive Team honors, Osborne in particular could make another leap in her first year without Onyenwere by her side.
Paul Diamantopoulos, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: National champions
UCLA beach volleyball has made it to three straight national championship finals dating back to 2018. This past year marked the Bruins’ first trip to the finals in which they came up empty-handed – falling short against their crosstown rivals. The Bruins’ roster remains relatively intact leading into this year with the loss of four postseason rotation players, the most notable being the absence of rising junior Lindsey Sparks following her season-ending knee surgery last month. The blue and gold will be able to counteract these losses with additions of their own, including a transfer from Hawai’i as well as a high-ranking freshman recruit. With a balance of newcomers and former top-rated recruits vying for playing time, next year’s team could be the one to bring another NCAA championship back to Westwood
Worst case: Team experiences a learning curve and stumbles
The last five national championships belong to the city of Los Angeles, with three won by USC and two held by UCLA. While the last two showdowns have been between the crosstown rivals, teams like Florida State, LSU and Loyola Marymount have begun to close the talent gap. The Bruins lose Savvy Simo, leader and anchor of the team’s top pairing – while shedding depth following Sparks’ injury and the departures of Jacqueline Quade, Cami Sanchez, Hannah Phair and Megan Muret to graduation. It is unclear how rising junior Pani Napoleon from Hawai’i will be integrated into the lineup on top of older recruits who have seen limited time among the starters. Add in the freshman recruiting class, highlighted by top recruit Jessie Smith, and there are a lot of talented pieces that will need time to gel through match play. How UCLA will fare without its veteran players is yet to be determined, but the competition will be ready to capitalize on the Bruins’ youth at any moment’s notice.
Storyline to watch: Rising leaders
Among the players on UCLA’s upcoming roster, Lea Monkhouse will be the lone senior. This places a leadership burden on the younger Bruins – most of whom have just completed their first full season of play. The team’s consistency hinges on how it handles this pressure, but it also presents the opportunity for unproven players to step up. Rising sophomores Tessa Van Winkle and Peri Brennan were top-eight recruits out of high school, while Smith headlines her incoming class. Starting spots are up for grabs for these players, and their performance in these roles will determine the ceiling for a young UCLA team.
Eden Yu, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: Upper-tier Pac-12
UCLA men’s cross country is returning with its entire squad intact. With the leadership of team captain and rising redshirt junior Darius Riley and the younger talent – led by rising redshirt sophomore Peter Herold and rising sophomore Anthony Stone – the Bruins should be able to maintain their spot near the top of the conference after finishing fifth in the Pac-12 last season. Rising junior Emma Tavella looks to lead the team from the women’s side, which is receiving four incoming freshmen who could all be key contributors as well.
Worst case: Lower-tier Pac-12
With the loss of four of its seniors, including former captain Paige Carter last year, the women’s team may struggle in its standings as well as with its leadership. Additionally, because of the postponement of the 2020 season, UCLA was only able to compete in three races last season. As a result, a relative lack of experience – especially among both teams’ newer runners – may negatively impact the Bruins’ performance this year.
Storyline to watch: The younger runners
At the end of last season, assistant coach Devin Elizondo mentioned the teamwork and improvement of the younger runners on the men’s team. This year, both the men’s and women’s teams are adding four freshmen, including incoming freshman Ajani Salcido – who boasts 8 minutes, 46 seconds in the two-mile run as a high school senior – on the men’s side. Rising sophomore and 2019 CIF State Division I champion Carlie Dorostkar was not able to run last year while battling injuries but could be a potential star for the women this year as well. These newer runners’ seasons combined with the leadership of their more experienced teammates will be integral to UCLA’s performance this year.
Jon Christon, Sports editor
Best case: Win the Pac-12
UCLA was under .500 a year ago, but its overall margin of defeat was just 15 points. Somehow, the Bruins were a few bounces of the ball from not only being 4-3 but potentially having a perfect season in the shortened seven-game campaign. The team returns most of its key players, and with an experienced Dorian Thompson-Robinson entering his senior season at the helm of the offense, the Bruins could feasibly challenge the rest of the lesser-quality Pac-12 South. From there, winning the conference would just be one game against the North champion.
Worst case: Sixth straight sub-.500 season
If the Bruins are under .500 again, it will just be more of the same old, same old in Westwood. Coach Chip Kelly has been stubborn to change in the past, and his same unimaginative offense could come back to bite the team again this year. Thompson-Robinson and his 30 career turnovers have also been part of the problem, and he didn’t totally buck the trend last year as he still averaged a takeaway per game. If Kelly and Thompson-Robinson show us more of the same, it will be another long season in Westwood.
Storyline to watch: The nonconference schedule
A Chip Kelly-coached UCLA team has never won a nonconference game, but the Bruins have the opportunity to make some noise if they turn that around this season. A win against Hawai’i to open the season would be big in its own right, but the second game of the campaign will be key. If UCLA can steal a win against 2020 national champion LSU on its home field, it could spell the beginning of a successful season. It would be even more pronounced if the team follows it up with a win against Fresno State in its third game and starts the year 3-0.
Lauryn Wang, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: Postseason run
When you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. UCLA men’s golf’s postseason bid faced a swift reality check after a last-place finish at the 2021 Pac-12 championships. However, with a top 10-ranked 2021 recruiting class to bolster an already young and deep team, the Bruins can reverse the narrative. The recruits may bring new energy to the table, hungry for collegiate success. Incoming freshman Pablo Ereño Perez, who is from Madrid, ranked No. 23 in his class and is joined by Irvine’s Evan Chien and Puebla, Mexico’s Ómar Morales. Alongside rising redshirt senior Kengo Aoshima, one of the recruits may occupy the starting vacancies left from graduating seniors Devon Bling and Eddy Lai to create a well-rounded lineup that has the potential to place in the Pac-12s and advance in the postseason come May.
Worst case: Low-tier Pac-12
In men’s golf, peaking in March isn’t exactly ideal. Last season, the Bruins claimed their sole team title at the Lamkin Invitational in that month. Primed for success, the team was ready to perform at its highest level yet with more than half the season remaining. However, the Bruins proceeded to finish in the bottom half of each of their last four tournaments before bringing up the rear at the Pac-12 championship. Bling and Lai were the team’s best performers at the Pac-12s and provided a one-two stronghold for the Bruins throughout the season. Following the seniors’ graduations, the underclassmen and recruits may struggle to adjust to the pressure of collegiate competition if the Bruins are unable to find leadership elsewhere in the roster. They also need to maintain momentum and consistency during the tournament stretch around spring break to contend with the best Pac-12 teams, as both Arizona State and USC boast top recruiting classes.
Storyline to watch: Leadership vacuum
Last year, then-junior Bryan Wiyang Teoh described team cooperation as “the number one thing” heading into the postseason. Now Teoh – in his last season at UCLA – is a seasoned senior who can dependably foster team cooperation and assume an important leadership role. The transition from junior golf to collegiate competition is not without its challenges, which elevates Aoshima’s role as a mentor for his underclassmen teammates. Ample leadership and team cooperation are on course to be just as important as ball striking and swing technique this season.
Jay Fenn, Daily Bruin reporter
Best case: National champions
The Bruins will bring back their entire roster from last year and are looking to fix the consistency issues that plagued them throughout all of 2021. Last year, UCLA was able to qualify as one of the 15 teams to contend for a national championship, only to finish in last place after a disappointing weekend. The Bruins will return their starting five with postseason experience under their belts, and they will also see two players make their returns to the team. Rising redshirt sophomore Ty Akabane and rising sophomore Alessia Nobilio will rejoin UCLA in the fall and bolster the back end of the starting lineup that proved to be a clear weak spot for the Bruins last year. If the new additions can make an impact right away, and rising juniors Emma Spitz, Emilie Paltrinieri and Annabel Wilson can play as they did at the end of last year, the Bruins will be national championship contenders.
Worst case: Miss out on regionals
If consistency issues continue to plague the Bruins, their 2022 season may end up worse than their 2021 campaign. UCLA was able to sneak into the NCAA Louisville Regional, where the team had one of its best tournaments of the year, placing second to give them a spot in the national championship. But if the Bruins see Spitz, Paltrinieri or Wilson take a step back this year and continue to see inconsistent play from their final two starters, it will be extremely difficult to sneak into regionals for a second consecutive season. With the Pac-12 as dominant as it has been in the past – sending five teams to last year’s national championship – it is entirely possible that the Bruins could struggle early and get stuck in the middle of the conference.
Storyline to watch: Emma Spitz’s quest for an individual national championship
In 2021, Spitz finished one shot back of becoming the first UCLA women’s golfer to win the individual national championship. She was a finalist for just about every award in the country. While Spitz compiled six top-three finishes last year, she too struggled with inconsistency. Even the best golfers in the world go through stretches where their swing does not click. If Spitz can avoid that, she will be in a prime position to win the individual national championship for the first time in UCLA history.
Sam Settleman, assistant Sports editor
Best case: National champions
With the amount of talent coming to NCAA gymnastics next year, UCLA would need a lot to go right for it to be crowned national champions when all’s said and done – but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. After a rebuilding year in which the Bruins simultaneously lost one of the greatest classes in collegiate history and added a much smaller freshman class than expected because of Olympic-related deferrals, the blue and gold will welcome the No. 1 freshman class in the nation to Westwood in 2021. If that class of seven gymnasts performs anything like the class that came in following the 2016 Rio Olympics, UCLA will be primed for a return to the top of the rankings. And if the returners can build on their ample experience from last year, the Bruins will be in contention for another title.
Worst case: Third place in Pac-12
Even if UCLA doesn’t hoist the trophy at the end of the season, it would be hard to imagine it finishing outside of the top three in the Pac-12. Despite last season being the Bruins’ worst since 2006, they finished just short of a top-10 national ranking. But if the freshmen don’t quite reach their potential in their first season and UCLA’s woes on beam continue for a third consecutive year, the Bruins could slip back into the lower half of the top 10 and finish behind conference rivals Utah and California.
Storyline to watch: Freshmen transition from elite to college gymnastics
NCAA gymnastics is unique in that competition does not necessarily become more difficult as athletes make the transition from high school to college. In fact, for gymnasts that reach the elite level of competition, the difficulty of college routines is considerably easier than what they’re accustomed to. Instead, NCAA competition forces gymnasts to focus on the perfect execution of easier skills. For some elite gymnasts, that transition can take some time – and with six former elites making their collegiate debuts for UCLA next season, that transition will be a critical factor in the Bruins’ success.
Zoe Moskowitz, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: Finish within the top 10
Although last season was filled with pauses and missing rowers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bruins were still able to maintain a top-20 ranking for the majority of the year. As the upcoming season brings more practice time and the addition of rowers in the freshman and sophomore classes, boats will gain more skill and be given more time to mesh. Should it have strong performances in its later season races, UCLA could push to a top-10 ranking this upcoming season.
Worst case: Last place finish in the Pac-12 championships
With so many new rowers and a new head coach taking over this season, it could take time for this team to find its stride. The Pac-12 is packed with fierce competition, including No. 2 Washington – the reigning Pac-12 champions – plus No. 3 Stanford and No. 9 California. If the boats are not able to find a sense of cohesion and cannot improve at the pace necessary to be successful against their competitors, they could finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 tournament, similar to what happened in the 2020-2021 season.
Storyline to watch: New head coach
At the end of the 2021 season, Amy Fuller Kearney – who served as UCLA’s head coach for 20 seasons – stepped into a new position as senior advisor. Previn Chandraratna – previously the Bruins’ associate head coach – assumed the role of interim head coach. Chandraratna has been with the program for the past six seasons and has been in charge of recruitment. His ability to lead the team will be the key for the upcoming season.
Emily Vu, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: Upper-tier Pac-12
With the addition of five new recruits – who together make up the top-rated recruiting class in the Pac-12 according to TopDrawerSoccer – the Bruins could have the offensive strength to end the streak of record-tying worst conference performances after finishing 2-6-2 in each of the past two seasons. Among the five players added to this season’s roster are Aaron Edwards and Brandon Zelaya, the No. 1- and No. 2-rated forwards in Northern California, respectively. While all of UCLA’s goal scorers from last season are returning to Westwood in the fall, the program tied for last in the Pac-12 in goals scored. The two recruits, alongside sophomore forward Grayson Doody – who shared the title of top goal scorer for UCLA with junior midfielder Riley Ferch – could be the partnership that propels the Bruins toward the top of the Pac-12.
Worst case: Sub-.500 season
Out of the five additions to Westwood this fall, none of the recruits are defenders. With the Bruins trailing the Pac-12 in 2020 in shutouts while also conceding a conference-tying most goals in a single match, the player to watch for his defensive leadership is senior defender Ahmed Longmire. Last season, Longmire received All-Pac-12 Second Team honors and recorded a team-high 1,121 minutes played. If the team is unable to limit conceding goals or solidify their organization at the back behind Longmire’s experience, then the Bruins could find themselves finishing at the bottom half of the conference.
Storyline to watch: Sophomores Tommy Silva and Grayson Doody
In their debut seasons in Westwood, sophomore defender Tommy Silva and sophomore forward Grayson Doody became regular starters and playmakers for the Bruins. The pair tied for the second-most points on the UCLA roster in the 2020 season with seven each, while Silva received honorable mentions to the season’s All-Conference team. With a year of experience under their belts, the sophomore pair could put on some exciting performances in the upcoming season.
Diego Farinha, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: College Cup appearance
In its 2020-2021 campaign, UCLA women’s soccer only lost one match en route to its first Pac-12 title since 2014. The Bruins eventually bowed out of the NCAA tournament on a penalty shootout just one game shy of a quarterfinal matchup with the eventual champions. With seven returning starters, including most of the attacking core, and a seven-player 2021 recruiting class, UCLA can rely on its deep squad. This team, infused with veteran leadership and young talent, will look to build upon last year to win back-to-back conference championships and reach the College Cup for the second time in three years.
Worst case: Upper-tier Pac-12
Of the five departing seniors from last year, three were anchors on the defensive backline. Lucy Parker and Karina Rodriguez started and ended the season as the team’s center-back pairing, while Jacey Pederson, playing left-back, was one of four Bruins to start all 17 games. Without this trio of defenders on the roster, UCLA could potentially concede more goals than its third-ranked defense in the conference did last year. But junior defender Brianne Riley, sophomore midfielder Michaela Rosenbaum and sophomore defender Dasia Torbert all showcased their defensive presence last season and will have to do so again in 2021, especially when facing offensive-minded opponents like Arizona State, USC and Stanford. The returning defenders, along with the three incoming freshmen defenders, will need to fill the gap on the back end or UCLA could slip into the middle of the pack in one of the most competitive conferences in the country.
Storyline to watch: The attacking duo of Reilyn Turner and Mia Fishel
In 2021, for the second consecutive year, a freshman led the Bruins in scoring. A year after junior forward Mia Fishel recorded 14 goals in her then-freshman season in Westwood, sophomore forward Reilyn Turner followed it up with 11 scores of her own in seven fewer games. With Fishel occupying the “9” role in the center of the offense and Turner out on the wing, the attacking versatility of the duo enabled at least one of them to record a goal or assist in all but one match last season. In the attacking tandem’s first year together, Turner and Fishel combined for 17 goals – nearly half of the team’s total tally – and 11 assists. Now, with established chemistry between the two, the duo will form one of the most dangerous attacking pairings in the nation.
Gavin Carlson, Daily Bruin reporter
Best Case: National champions
Rachel Garcia’s UCLA career is finished, leaving the Bruins tasked with reaching their seventh straight Women’s College World Series without her. The good news is they’ve already proven they can succeed without the defending Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year. In 2020, while Garcia and fellow All-American utility Bubba Nickles sat the year out to train with Team USA, UCLA went 25-1 and was ranked number No. 1 before the pandemic abruptly ended its season. Heading into 2022, the Bruins look nearly identical to the team robbed of a deep postseason run by COVID-19. Factor in the experience the group gained during its WCWS run in 2021, and UCLA has what it takes to add another national championship to its NCAA-record 12 in 2022.
Worst case: NCAA Super Regionals exit
One successful season without Garcia and Nickles two years ago doesn’t automatically equate to another one this season. Garcia – the only two-time outright winner of the aforementioned Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year Award – is arguably the greatest two-way player in the history of collegiate softball. Losing her career .337 batting average and 1.43 ERA takes a cut out of both UCLA’s offensive and defensive productivity, as does the loss of Nickles’ career .357 batting average and Olympic-level defense. We’ll never know how the star duo-less 2020 roster would have fared in the postseason, but last season’s team with both Olympians almost missed the WCWS after losing its first game of the Super Regionals. Playing for a UCLA softball program with the most national championships and WCWS appearances brings added pressure to every postseason run, and this could be the year the Bruins fall short of the WCWS for the first time since 2015.
Storyline to watch: Maya Brady’s potential stardom
Rising redshirt sophomore utility Maya Brady was named the Softball America Freshman Player of the Year in 2020 after hitting .356, slugging .699 and tying for a team-best 28 RBIs. Last season, Brady continued her success by tying for the UCLA lead with 14 home runs, including one that made her go viral. Following her first home run of the 2021 season, Maya Brady’s uncle – seven-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback Tom Brady – jokingly tweeted that his niece was “the most dominant athlete in the Brady family.” The official MLB Twitter account tweeted the quote to its 9 million followers, stating, “Maya Brady hits rockets.” With Garcia gone, Brady is now the most famous UCLA softball player and likely the Bruins’ best hitter as well. Thanks to her talent and last name, an even stronger 2022 campaign could see Brady earn more national awards and attention than the average collegiate softball star.
Swim and Dive
Kyle Boal, Sports senior staff
Best case: Pac-12 podium finish
UCLA swim and dive has had two top-four Pac-12 championship finishes so far under rising third-year coach Jordan Wolfrum but still needs to make improvements before it can reach the conference’s top echelon. The Bruins navigated a reduced season and an abnormal two-day meet structure to finish third at the Pac-12 championship last season, their best finish since 2006. UCLA earned a dual-meet victory over rival USC for the first time since 2007 behind six-time individual NCAA qualifier rising senior swimmer Claire Grover’s anchor leg in the 400 free relay in the final regular-season meet. The team would then go on to finish above the Trojans in the conference championship. Still, UCLA finished more than 275 points behind Pac-12 powerhouses Stanford and California in the final conference meet, both of whom have won three national championships since 2010. Returning the majority of its roster, including rising junior divers Hannah Butler and Katie Shaheen, who both qualified for the NCAA’s last season, UCLA has a chance to continue climbing the conference ranks this season.
Worst case: First-time regression under new coach
Wolfrum led her team to fourth place in the conference in her first year as coach in 2019, its best Pac-12 finish since 2014. A season later, UCLA defeated rival USC, both head-to-head and in the conference championship. Her two years so far at the helm of the program succeed America Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Cyndi Gallagher, who, even as the Bruins’ all-time winningest coach, placed third or higher in the conference title meet only four times from 2000-2019. Simply maintaining Wolfrum’s production will be no easy feat. A worst-case scenario for UCLA would be a fifth-place finish in the conference championship meet with less than five student-athletes qualifying for the NCAAs. Nonetheless, even if the Bruins were to finish behind only the Trojans, Golden Bears and Cardinal, it would still mark a regression from the prior season, something yet to occur under Wolfrum.
Storyline to watch: Pac-12 Coach of the Year potential
Whether it’s Wolfrum or 24-year veteran diving coach Tom Stebbins, the Bruins’ leadership will have a chance at award recognition by the end of the season. Stebbins is no stranger to the title, as he is just the second coach ever to three-peat as Diving Coach of the Year in the conference. Stebbins last earned the award in 2019 coaching Maria Polyakova, who was named National Diver of the Year when she became UCLA’s first national champion in women’s diving. Meanwhile, while Wolfrum has neither won the award nor defeated either Stanford or California, her tenure has led 14 student-athletes to qualify for NCAAs, while also breaking multiple school records. Should the Bruins continue to improve in the conference tournament by defeating either the Golden Bears or Cardinal, Wolfrum could finish this season with her first Coach of the Year trophy.
Jack Nelson, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: Pac-12 regular-season champions
UCLA is welcoming the No. 3 recruiting class to Westwood this fall – its highest-ranked group since 2017 as well as the top class in the Pac-12. The incoming class consists of blue-chips Karl Lee and Spencer Johnson – who rank No. 8 and No. 10 among recent high school graduates – and Alexander Hoogmartens, who boasts a career-high ITF junior ranking of 37. The new kids on the block may be able to fill in the gaps left by three departing starters, especially considering coach Billy Martin’s track record with blue-chip player development – most recently evidenced in four-year starter Keegan Smith. The Bruins will lose potentially eight players from the previous season but still return more than half their roster, giving Martin preestablished chemistry to draw from for doubles pairings. The coming year will present an opportunity for UCLA to prove that this past season’s fourth-place finish and early playoff exits were a fluke for a powerhouse program. The Bruins have the tools to send that message by reclaiming the Pac-12 regular-season title.
Worst case: Middle of the Pac-12
Albeit under scary circumstances, the Bruins caught a glimpse of life without Smith when they needed him most in 2021, and his absence had a visible impact. They didn’t sniff the second round of the Pac-12 or NCAA tournaments without their top singles player, and their lack of postseason success was foreshadowed by shortcomings earlier in the season. In addition to Smith’s exit, the loss of key singles contributors Govind Nanda and Ben Goldberg and doubles starter Bryce Pereira could prove too much for the Bruins to rebound from. As is always the case, Pac-12 men’s tennis will be tightly contested and a few wrong steps often mean the difference between first and fourth. Should UCLA falter against the strongholds of USC and Stanford or emerging contenders in Arizona and Arizona State, it’ll find itself stuck right where it was at the end of 2021.
Storyline to watch: Stefan Leustian building on a convincing debut
The double bagel is an elusive feat in college tennis, so when Leustian achieved it in his regular-season debut with the blue and gold, it turned more than a few heads. It was his sole appearance in the lineup except for the Pepperdine Invitational prior to the start of the regular season, but it offered a promising sample of his raw talents that have yet to develop. Leustian is the only blue-chip recruit from UCLA’s 2020 class, and with multiple lineup spots opening up, the No. 14-ranked player among 2020 high school graduates has the opportunity to work his way onto the back courts in singles play. The faith that Martin puts in Leustian early on in the upcoming campaign will be a key indicator of his progress.
Olivia Simons, assistant Sports editor
Best case: National championship contenders
UCLA ended its season in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament last year with a closely contested upset loss to Pepperdine. The Bruins, however, swept their first three NCAA opponents after earning their first outright regular-season Pac-12 championship in that same campaign. UCLA will lose five of its 11 athletes from last season, most of which made everyday appearances in the lineup, including four-time All-American Jada Hart. But the blue and gold will still retain valuable talent and will also bring in three top-ranked prospects, giving them another shot at pushing past the Elite Eight and capturing a national championship.
Worst case: Pac-12 contenders
With the outlook of their lineup up in the air, it may be the case that the Bruins will be unable to repeat their 2021 conference regular-season title and have to settle for a second- or third-place finish. Important returning players such as rising junior Abbey Forbes – the No. 4-ranked singles player – and rising senior Elysia Bolton will play a key role in determining the team’s success in 2022. One of UCLA’s strengths in 2021 was in doubles play, which included at least three departing players in the lineup. Without a clear setup on Courts 1 and 2 in doubles or for about half of their singles lineup for 2022, the Bruins will have to get creative and try new combinations to settle into a routine and compete against the rest of the conference.
Storyline to watch: Abbey Forbes’ junior season
As one of the highest-ranked collegiate singles players in the nation, while also being a strong presence at the net in doubles play, Forbes competes in the spotlight of a talent-ladened Bruin team. Through two seasons in Westwood, Forbes holds a 47-6 singles record and has twice earned All-American honors, while also being crowned the 2021 Pac-12 Singles Player of the Year. The rising junior secured her best showing in the national rankings at the end of the 2021 season, while also reaching the quarterfinal as the No. 7 seed in the individual NCAA singles tournament, demonstrating she is primed for another year of success at UCLA.
Track and Field
Ricardo Garcia, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: Women’s team finishes top four in the Pac-12
At last season’s Pac-12 championship meet, the women’s team finished in the middle of the standings at sixth place, an improvement from eighth place in 2019. Several coaches indicated the team didn’t get as much time to train because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the hope is that a normal offseason helps the team find its rhythm before the season starts, as opposed to during the season. Returning seniors thrower Alyssa Wilson and sprinter Shae Anderson were among the team’s best performers last season and figure to be among the best in not just the Pac-12 but in the nation next season.
Worst case: Men’s team bottoms out
The men’s team fell short of a Pac-12 title in 2019, taking second place behind Oregon to rebound from a ninth-place finish in 2018. It looked like the start of an upward trajectory for the program, but it didn’t last long – the men’s team tumbled to eighth in the 2021 meet. Whether it was the result of the controversy surrounding the use of homophobic, racist and sexist language by a former UCLA cross country and track athlete that arose prior to the indoor season or the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and injuries that made it difficult to maintain a rhythm, the men will look to regain some momentum with a normal offseason. Rising junior sprinter Ismail Turner had a promising sophomore outdoor season, which included a lifetime-best 45.64 in the 400-meter at the NCAA West Regional Finals, the 10th fastest in program history. Turner capped off his season with a 20th-place finish at NCAAs and should be a dependable point getter for the men’s team next season.
Storyline to watch: How many more UCLA records will be broken?
If 2021 does prove to be a rebuilding season for the program, look to see how many Bruins add their names to UCLA’s top-10 performance lists. The men added four to the top 10 this season, while the women added 12, including two new top overall performances. Senior sprinter Shae Anderson in particular could add her name to the all-time performance list in other events such as the 400-meter. She’s already second all-time and was second best in the nation in the event. However, a fall in the West Regional Qualifiers prevented her from vying for a national championship in the event, so it is plausible she could use the moment as fuel for further success in the upcoming season.
David Deng, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: MPSF champions
UCLA men’s volleyball finished last season ranked second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with a 14-5 conference record – its best conference win percentage since its 2018 NCAA finalist season. Most of the roster remains intact, with the Bruins returning multiple starters. Rising junior outside hitter/opposite Cole Ketrzynski will be returning after ranking eighth in the nation last year in points per set. Promising rising sophomores outside hitter Ethan Champlin and outside hitter/opposite Merrick McHenry – both named to the MPSF All-Freshman team – will be a year older and wiser. For a team that made the conference semifinal, another year of experience could push it over the hump in the MPSF.
Worst case: Middle of the pack
The Bruins will be missing starting setter Sam Kobrine to graduation. It’s unclear who the team’s setter next year will be, and the lack of continuity at one of the most critical positions in the game could prove to be a major issue. While the men’s volleyball team has not gone under .500 since 2015, it went 10-9 in 2020 after the departure of setter Micah Ma’a. It’s possible UCLA is still one middle-of-the-pack year away from a championship run.
Storyline to watch: Adapting to third setter in three years
Following setter Mads Kyed Jensen’s departure to play professional volleyball in Italy after the 2020 season, Sam Kobrine stepped in as setter and earned a first-team All-MPSF selection. However, after Kobrine’s graduation, the Bruins are once again looking for a starting setter. Holdovers from last season’s team who could potentially fill the void include rising redshirt senior setter Adam Parks, rising redshirt sophomore setter Marcus Partain and rising sophomore setter/opposite hitter Miles Partain. Both Partain brothers saw action at setter for the blue and gold in 2021, and Parks started several matches at the position in 2019. Regardless of who starts at setter this season, the Bruins will need to build in-game chemistry quickly if they are to compete for the MPSF championship.
Tung Lin, Daily Bruin senior staff
Best case: Surpass second round in playoffs
For two years in a row, UCLA has stopped short in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Without losing too many players to graduation or the transfer portal, the Bruins have more time to focus on becoming a better team rather than adjusting to a new lineup. Transitioning away from the doubleheaders could push UCLA past the second round. Last year, an injury seven matches into the season took out junior setter Devon Chang. While the team adjusted and ended with a .700 win-loss record in conference play, an injury-free season could bring the Bruins closer to the championship.
Worst case: Low-tier Pac-12 team
While UCLA has not repeated its losing record of 2018, the team could repeat its inconsistent ways from last season. In five doubleheader matchups, despite winning the first match of each series, the Bruins lost the second match. Regardless, UCLA kept its losing streak in 2020 below two. Inconsistency made its appearance in the 2018 season, and unchecked inconsistency can be detrimental for the Bruins. While UCLA will likely qualify for playoffs, it could fall to a lower standing compared to its Pac-12 counterparts.
Storyline to watch: USA national team players
Graduate student outside/opposite hitter Mac May and senior defensive specialist/libero Zoe Fleck attended training with the USA Volleyball Women’s Collegiate National Team while sophomore outside/opposite hitter Allison Jacobs played with the U20 United States national team that finished fifth at the world championships this summer. May has already surpassed 1,000 kills in her collegiate career. Fleck finished her first season at UCLA with 4.39 digs per set in 2020. Jacobs scored 89 points in eight matches at the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball U20 World Championship. Not only do these opportunities serve as extra practice for these Bruins, but they also function as additional chances to scout top players for the upcoming season.
Water Polo (M)
Kyle Boal, Sports senior staff
Best case: Back-to-back national champions
The only team to bring a national championship to Westwood last season, UCLA men’s water polo will have a good chance to do it again. The Bruins will benefit from a probable return to a normal schedule. UCLA only suited up against two nonconference opponents last season, playing the traditional top three teams – California, USC and Stanford – multiple times apiece. After missing the playoffs entirely in 2019 for the first time in six years, a roster of 25 out of 30 underclassmen made an improbable run to the national title despite losing four straight games leading into the final tournament. The Bruins return the National Player of the Year in senior attacker Nicolas Saveljic to an already young roster, which includes last season’s Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year sophomore attacker Mo Kenney. Having won four of the last seven national championships under coach Adam Wright’s guidance, the Bruins proved to be the best in the country last season and hope to repeat that this season.
Worst case: Semifinal exit
The Bruins’ title run wasn’t without some help. Out of Stanford, USC and California, UCLA only had a winning record against the Cardinal heading into the NCAA tournament. The Bruins were 1-3 against the Golden Bears – with all three losses coming in overtime – and 2-3 against their crosstown rival Trojans. UCLA favorably matched up with Stanford’s side of the bracket, giving the Bruins their best chance to play in the national championship. Meanwhile, USC knocked off California in the semifinal, and UCLA avoided a team it hadn’t defeated since the second day of the season. The Bruins tied for the most losses of any team to win the national championship with seven and were only two games over .500. Given how close each of the big four is from year to year, if UCLA gets a bad semifinal matchup, its season may end before it gets a chance to win back-to-back national titles for the first time in six years.
Storyline to watch: Goalkeeper depth
After losing two-time first-team All-American and current Team USA goalkeeper Alex Wolf to graduation prior to last season, second-team All-American junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi filled in seamlessly to lead the conference in saves. Playing in over 80% of quarters for the Bruins, the Italian athlete proved to be a reliable option, recording crucial saves in the team’s national championship victory over the Trojans. Though Maurizi excelled, he dealt with an injury during the conference tournament, giving sophomore goalkeeper Garret Griggs and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Chase Honaker an opportunity to play. With more games likely on the upcoming schedule, the pair may get more time in the pool. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Sam Krutonog will also be available to play this season after transferring from USC and sitting out. Maurizi may be the clear-cut starter, but UCLA isn’t without options.
Water Polo (W)
Kyle Boal, Sports senior staff
Best case: National champions
UCLA women’s water polo’s roster is filled from top to bottom with talent. But since now-Team USA coach Adam Krikorian brought his fifth consecutive and seventh total national title to the program in 2009, the Bruins have been unable to put it all together. The team broke through to the national title game for the first time in coach Adam Wright’s tenure a season ago, only to take the worst loss in the history of the national title game. UCLA has endless scoring options, whether it’s two-time Pac-12 Newcomer of the Week rising sophomore Malia Allen, All-American rising juniors Hannah Palmer and Abbi Hill or any of All-American rising seniors Ava Johnson, Val Ayala and Katrina Drake. The team will lose attacker Lexi Liebowitz, goalkeeper Jahmea Bent and defenders Brooke Maxson and Myna Simmons to graduation, all integral parts in the blue and gold’s success last season. In order to win the national title in the upcoming season, UCLA needs rising redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips to take over as its clear-cut starter while getting production from rising junior goalkeeper Quinn Winter, who played one quarter last year. The Bruins have defeated the Trojans and Cardinal individually, now they need to put it all together to bring the national championship trophy back to Westwood.
Worst case: Missing the championship window
At the end of last season, coach Adam Wright preached to his players, “This group is only a team once.” After losing their 2019 national title aspirations to a truncated season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bruins had an opportunity to claim the trophy in their home pool. Instead, UCLA got doubled up by USC 4-2 to end the first quarter and again 10-5 heading into halftime before falling 18-9. The roster, composed entirely of California athletes, will feature a majority of upperclassmen. If the team fails to find a cohesive identity this season, it will miss the window for this group of student-athletes to win a national championship. The Bruins have been the runner-up to the title in four of the last seven NCAA tournaments. This is the year for Wright and his team to finally break through – anything less will be disappointing.
Storyline to watch: Olympic return
The Bruins have been without redshirt senior attackers Maddie Musselman and Bronte Halligan for the last two seasons as they prepared to compete at the Tokyo Olympics. But both are expected to return to UCLA for the upcoming season and will contribute in and out of the pool. Currently playing for Team USA, Musselman was named tournament MVP en route to winning her second gold medal and the team’s third straight. In her first season in Westwood in 2017, Musselman netted 69 goals, setting the freshman record while adding 21 assists and 48 steals. The leader in goals every year she suited up for the blue and gold, Musselman would have an immediate offensive impact for the Bruins next season. Halligan, playing for Team Australia, serves as a great all-around player. Leading UCLA in assists and steals in back-to-back years, Halligan’s return would boost the Bruins’ defensive presence while complimenting Musselman offensively. Outside of the pool, the two Olympians serve as strong mentors for the program. Their return would be the final puzzle pieces to a roster that already contended for a national championship.