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Women’s soccer maintains undefeated run, beats USC to clinch Pac-12 championship

Graduate student midfielder Olivia Athens raises the Pac-12 trophy. Athens scored one of No. 3 UCLA women’s soccer’s three goals as the Bruins conquered the Trojans on Friday night. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)

Women’s Soccer

No. 8 USC1
No. 3 UCLA3

By Jay Fenn

Nov. 5, 2021 10:30 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 8 at 12:25 a.m.

After hoisting the championship trophy in an empty stadium a season ago, the Bruins are raising the hardware once more – this time in a full house.

No. 3 UCLA women’s soccer (16-0-3, 8-0-3 Pac-12) claimed its second straight Pac-12 title after taking down No. 8 USC (13-3-2, 8-1-2) 3-1 on Friday night at Wallis Annenberg Stadium. The victory extends the Bruins’ unbeaten streak against their crosstown rival to seven games while giving the blue and gold its first undefeated regular season since 2014.

Graduate student midfielder Olivia Athens said winning her second straight Pac-12 championship in the fashion the Bruins did Friday night was one of the highlights of her college career.

“This is a picture-perfect ending to win the Pac-12 at home against USC,” Athens said.

After going scoreless in the first half in back-to-back games a week ago, it did not take long for UCLA to get on the board in the de facto Pac-12 championship game. In the 18th minute, freshman defender Lilly Reale took the ball across the middle of the field and fired a shot that deflected off a Trojan defender and found the foot of sophomore forward Reilyn Turner, who slotted it in the back of the net to put the Bruins up 1-0.

UCLA continued its offensive attack into the 23rd minute when junior forward Mia Fishel turned atop the 18-yard box and found Turner once again. The junior sent a pass to Athens, who flicked the ball to herself to earn a one-on-one opportunity with USC goalkeeper Anna Smith.

Athens, who had scored twice against the Trojans entering the contest, capitalized on the opportunity to extend the Bruins’ lead to two goals.

The graduate student credited her teammates for always putting her in the right situations.

“The past couple of years, my teammates have set me up really well, but these rivalries just bring something magical,” Athens said.

Athens chips the ball over USC goalkeeper Anna Smith to score the game-winning goal.
(David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)

The Bruins did not let up there, as six minutes later, Reale took the ball up from midfield and fired a shot across goal that went inches wide of the right post. Fishel nearly replicated Reale’s opportunity in the 30th minute, beating a Trojan defender on the right side of the pitch and striking the ball past the left woodwork.

Needing a win Friday to clinch the title, Athens said the team came out with a lot of energy and was ready for whatever its crosstown rival threw at it.

“We were pretty hyped (coming into the game),” Athens said.  “Everything was on the line, and we wanted to come out fast. We just wanted to come out strong and keep the pedal down after those two goals.” 

USC had its best chance of the first half in the 37th minute when forward Penelope Hocking – playing for the first time in four games – broke free of the UCLA defense, but senior goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy came off her line to make the save. The Trojans followed up with another opportunity in the 40th minute when midfielder Aaliyah Farmer sent a header wide of the right post. 

Despite USC entering the game with the No. 11 offense in the country, UCLA held the Trojans scoreless in the first half.

 Coach Amanda Cromwell said the first 45 minutes were one of the most complete halves the Bruins have played all year.

“USC has been one of the best teams in the country all year,” Cromwell said.  “Overall awesome work, great goals and that first half, we can build on that. That was one of the best halves of soccer I have coached at UCLA.”

The second half opened with two shots between the teams in the first 20 minutes after a 10-shot first half. But in the 71st minute, Reale fouled Hocking and gave the Trojans a free kick just outside the 18-yard box. USC midfielder Croix Bethune curled the ensuing shot wide of the right post, maintaining the Bruins’ two-goal advantage.

Hocking got one back in the 78th minute, however, when Reale took down a Trojan attacker in the box. The senior stepped up and drilled the penalty shot into the bottom right corner to cut UCLA’s lead to one.  

On the fifth corner kick of the match, graduate student midfielder Marley Canales scored the dagger when she curled the ball into the back of the net straight off the corner to extend UCLA’s lead to 3-1.

“This is a night I will never forget,” Canales said.  “Winning back-to-back Pac-12 championships, and with this one being at home, is something I will never forget.”

With the win, the Bruins finished as the lone undefeated team in the country and will have to wait until Monday to see their postseason fate at the NCAA selection show.

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Jay Fenn | Sports staff
Fenn is currently a Sports staffer on the baseball beat. He was previously a reporter on the women's soccer beat and a contributor on the beach volleyball and men's and women's golf beats.
Fenn is currently a Sports staffer on the baseball beat. He was previously a reporter on the women's soccer beat and a contributor on the beach volleyball and men's and women's golf beats.
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