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Q&A: Margueritte Aozasa discusses recent appointment as UCLA women’s soccer coach

Coach Margueritte Aozasa shakes a referee’s hand. Aozasa became the sixth coach in UCLA women’s soccer history when she was hired in December. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)

By Sam Settleman, Diego Farinha, and Jay Fenn

April 25, 2022 2:25 p.m.

This post was updated April 27 at 9:25 p.m.

Assistant Sports editor Sam Settleman and staff writers Jay Fenn and Diego Farinha sat down with newly appointed UCLA women’s soccer coach Margueritte Aozasa to discuss her first collegiate head coaching gig, her plans for the future of the Bruins and more.

[Related: UCLA hires Margueritte Aozasa as next women’s soccer coach]

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Daily Bruin: Can you just take us through the process of how you got hired and why you chose to come to UCLA?

Margueritte Aozasa: So I’ve been at Stanford for the past seven years. Very, very fortunate to have a lot of success there, at least in terms of on-the-field success. So that was great. I feel like that really set me up to kind of take the next step in my career. And then this year, I don’t know if you guys really followed it, but there was a ridiculous amount of openings around the country. I think at some point there was like 40 plus or 50 something D-I head coaching jobs open. It was something just out of this world – doesn’t really happen. And then even more rare, both (the) USC and UCLA head coaching jobs were open, which I don’t think anyone would have ever predicted. So that was kind of like, in some way, I think, sped up my process of becoming a head coach just because there was so many great opportunities that I was like, ‘If there’s a time to do it, now’s the time to try.’ Through the encouragement of a lot of my peers and mentors, when the job came open, they just encouraged me to go for it. And honestly, I don’t know if I would have put my name in the hat if that didn’t happen. And so I decided to prepare my resume, prepare my cover letter, stuff like that. And then I sent my application off to UCLA, and maybe within a day or two, I got a first phone call with Erin (UCLA associate athletic director Erin Adkins), who was the one leading the search, and then it was like rapid fire. So I spoke with Erin. She texted me during my yoga class, like 9 a.m. I was trying to be all namaste. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I get a text like, ‘Hi, I’m Erin from UCLA. Would you be interested in having a chat?’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, OK.’ In some way (completely) unprepared, but that’s OK. And then by 11 o’clock, I was on the phone with Erin. By 1 o’clock, I was on the phone with Martin (UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond). By 5 o’clock that night, we had booked a flight to come out to UCLA the next day, basically to interview, so it went very, very quickly. And then on top of that, I got married that same week. So it was even quicker because I think they had wanted to prolong the interview process a little longer, but I was unavailable at the end of the week. So the first call was on Sunday, I flew out on Monday, interviewed on Tuesday, family came in on Wednesday, got married Saturday and then went on my honeymoon, and while we were on my honeymoon is when I got offered the job.

DB: Did you look at any other coaching jobs around the country or were you mostly just focused on UCLA?

MA: UCLA was the only job I applied for. There were other jobs. I did consider USC at some point, but happy I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity at UCLA. The conversation I had with myself many times was I was at an incredible place at Stanford. So we were doing really well – it’s an incredible school. I’m from the Bay Area, so that was very convenient. So I had many conversations with our head coach there, Paul (Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe), basically saying for me to leave it would have to be something incredible. And when I called him after my first call with Erin, I told him I was like, ‘Paul, you wouldn’t believe what happened. I just talked to the associate AD at UCLA.’ And I told him, I was like, ‘Paul, you know for me to leave it would have to be something really special.’ And Paul was like, ‘Yeah, I think this counts. This is really special.’ Also, Paul is a UCLA alum, so he was very supportive.

DB: Most of this team you didn’t recruit, so what has been your first impression of them so far?

MA: What’s funny is there’s quite a few of them on the team that we did recruit at Stanford, so I’ve known them for quite some time. And then I did a lot of the scouting while we were at Stanford. So at least the ones who play significant minutes in the last couple years I do know very well. But my first impression of them was really positive. Every single one of them was super receptive. Every single one has great energy. They come to training with purpose. They come to training with a smile. It’s been really great. I was really blown away kind of in that first few weeks. Had you asked me what my biggest challenge was going to be taking over the team, prior to meeting them, I would have said, ‘Will they be receptive?’ Because they’ve been super successful. If I want to introduce change, will they want that? Because they won the last few Pac-12 championships. In many ways, maybe they feel like they don’t need to change. But that hasn’t been the case at all. Every single one has just been very open-minded, very warm. … You can see just they’re yearning to be coachable. So it’s been really great.

DB: You played under Jerry Smith at Santa Clara, and you mentioned your seven years at Stanford. What do you take from your time at both those historic programs to implement here with your own team?

MA: I feel like I’ve just been living in the light and been so fortunate to have incredible mentors every step of my career. From Jerry, he has this incredible ability I think to bring out the competitiveness in his group. It doesn’t matter how talented Santa Clara is. I think year by year, they will always find a way to make the game close – they will always find a way to make the game difficult. It’s never a team that you’re going to want to face either early in the year or later in the tournament. You know it’s always going to be a really competitive match. And so I’ll try, I think, with our program to bring that out. We want our team to be one of the hardest teams to beat in the country. Even if maybe two or three of our best players are out, fine – it doesn’t matter. We’re going to be super competitive. We’re going to make the game difficult. We are not going to be a team you want to face at any point in the year. From Paul, I’ve said this many times because it really rings true to me. He is an incredible manager and in many ways an incredible boss. The advice he gave me in taking over the program, he’s like, ‘Hire great assistants because I think the assistants really make the program.’ I want to be the type of leader he was when I was his assistant. So he was super compassionate, very understanding, very empowering. He’s not a head coach that needs to be the center of attention all the time. And I think that’s really special. And so that’s something that personally I want to bring to my staff and to my role as a leader. And then soccer-wise, Paul, I just love the way he sees the game. He will break it down to the smallest detail and make it so simple that you’ll just be like, ‘Oh, obviously.’ The way he presents it you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s no other answer. Like obviously I should have passed it to my outside back.’ I love his ability to do that. And I hope that we can continue to teach our players in a similar manner where it helps them see the game at its most simplest form so that they can be prepared to make decisions.

DB: This is the first head coaching job of your collegiate career. Do you feel any pressure taking over a prestigious program with high expectations?

MA: Yeah, sometimes. I think sometimes I’m just blissfully naive or something. It sometimes hits me in waves that I’m head coach of such a prestigious program. Never in my life would I have guessed that my first head coaching job would be a top five program. And that doesn’t happen very often. I’m very thankful for that. In terms of pressure, I think I would feel more pressure if I didn’t feel as much support as I do feel. Yeah, there’s pressure – the expectation to win. I think a lot of the reason why I was hired is because my expectation for this program is to win conference championships, win national championships. I think we’re capable of doing that. But at no point have I felt like that’s not attainable, or at no point have I felt like I don’t have the support either in my staff or the department to do that. So yes, there’s a little pressure, but I feel like it’s well earned, I guess you could say – or it’s well placed. I don’t feel like it’s unreasonable.

DB: How does your approach and coaching style change now that you’re a head coach and you have the final decision?

MA: It’s a little weird, I’ll be honest. Sometimes I have to remind myself that when we walk into a room, I need to start the meeting or something. But I don’t think my style has changed too, too much. I think, at Stanford, very much my role was to be very reasonable, to be very objective and helping to make decisions for the program. Paul gave me a lot of responsibility, or I always felt like my opinion really held a lot of weight. So in that sense, the transition hasn’t been too fast. There’s been rare times on our staff where Gof (assistant coach Gof Boyoko) will say one thing, Molly (assistant coach Molly Poletto) will say another, and then they look at me and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I got to choose.’ It’s kind of funny being the final decision, but what’s been great is it just feels like my first real opportunity to kind of create a program or build a program really in my own vision. So it’s something that’s been really fun.

DB: You mentioned creating a great coaching staff. What were you looking for in your assistant coaches, and what do you think each of them brings to the table?

MA: Oh my gosh, I really tried to bring balance. I didn’t want four of us to be the exact same. I didn’t want the four of us to see the game the exact same way. I didn’t want the four of us to relate to players in the exact same way because otherwise, at some point it becomes redundant or one of us is obsolete and not necessary. So I really tried to find balance. So for instance, Molly, she came from University of Missouri. So from a recruiting standpoint, she has really great connections in a different part of the country, typically than Gof, for instance, who came from UC Santa Barbara. So there’s stuff like that in the recruiting realm. In terms of personality, we kind of laugh because we all are very different. You know, Chelsea (volunteer assistant coach Chelsea Tudela), our volunteer assistant, she is the most caring, compassionate, kindest person we know, which is great because she has that ability to connect with players on a level that sometimes for me, as a head coach, when you’re making the hard decisions, it’s hard to connect with a player in that way. Because they know at the end of the day, I chose whether or not they got to play, so there’s that. Molly, we kind of laugh that she keeps us all going. It’s not rare for us to walk off the field and say, ‘Molly, OK, what do we have going today?’ Because she is super Type A, has everything planned down to the minute, every single meeting we need to do, every single person we need to reach out to, every recruit we need to reach out to – Molly keeps everyone in line. And then Gof, he’s just full of passion, full of energy. When he coaches, he’s like an out-of-body experience, just enjoying it so much that I feel there’s no way our players can’t enjoy it because he just loves the game that much. And then obviously for me, it’s about managing. It’s about keeping us all kind of on the same page like headed toward the same goal, the same vision. But yeah, really, really went for balance. And then the overarching thing was just hiring good people. It has to be people that I’m comfortable with, that I feel good hanging out with five, six hours a day, six days a week. These have to be people that we all get along, that we all enjoy our jobs, that we all enjoy each other. So I hope that when people see our staff, those two things come across very clearly. A lot of balance, but the thing we all do have in common is good people, good energy, people that really care about what we do.

DB: You’ve certainly had the opportunity to coach against and scout against UCLA on many occasions. What have you liked about their style of play?

MA: UCLA over the past decade has been known for their attacking flair. They’re just a fun team to watch in terms of how they value the ball, how they value possession, their individual creativity, just like individual talent, to be honest. And so that part is really exciting to take over. I think sometimes the attacking side can be harder to teach than the defensive side because the defensive side is a little more structure and the attacking side I like to rely a little bit more on creativity. So if you don’t have those players, then it’s really hard to bring that out of someone that maybe that’s not their style. Thankfully, we have a lot of players on our team that have that flair, have that creativity, have that ability to break teams down individually. And they love the attacking stuff, they love attacking football. So that part’s been really great. From the scout, I also know we may not have been the best defensive team in the country in years past. We won a lot of games 4-3 and stuff like that. So we’re really trying to hammer down in these last few weeks the defensive side and just give our team a little bit more structure when we don’t have the ball.

DB: What are you hoping to bring to the program in terms of philosophy and style of play?

MA: Stylistically – I mentioned it a little bit or alluded to it – we want to value possession, but we also want to be dangerous. At no point do we want teams to feel like, ‘Oh, if we just keep them in front of us, we’ll be fine.’ We want to make sure that we’re constantly at threat and that we’re fairly versatile in that, OK, if a team wants to sit back on us, we’re going to know how to attack. If a team wants to press us, we’re going to know how to attack. Basically, we want to be so well prepared that whatever (a) team throws at us we’re able to break it down. And then the flip side of that is we also want teams to fear us just as much when we don’t have the ball as they do when we have the ball. Right now, UCLA, I think people are afraid of UCLA when we’re in possession, but we want them to be afraid of UCLA when we’re out of possession, too. And I think that’s kind of the next step for this program. A lot of the players on our team, they will say like, ‘Oh, I want to win a national championship.’ And we’ll kind of joke with them and we’ll say, ‘OK, then that implies you want to be the best team in the country, right?’ And we’ll say, ‘OK, well, if you want to be the best team in the country, that means you are the best attacking team in the country. That means you’re the best defensive team in the country. That means in transition, you’re the best team. That means you’re one of the fittest teams in the country – all of these things have to go together.’ I think soccer has evolved so much in the last 10 years that you can no longer get away with just being good in one phase of the game. Now you’re going to have to be really good, really spectacular in all phases of the game. So I think what we’re trying to bring as a staff now, it’s just a more complete, I guess you could say, a more comprehensive dominance as opposed to just the attacking side.

DB: Talking about personnel, losing Mia Fishel, the past few years losing Delanie (Sheehan), Viviana (Villacorta), Olivia (Athens) and Marley (Canales) – just a lot of veteran leadership. How do you kind of replace the offensive production with the new players that you do have who are kind of on the younger side?

MA: They’re a little on the younger side, but I’ve been really pleased with the way some of our players have stepped up and filled those midfield roles. So we have a freshman player who will play her freshman year next year. She was an early enrollee who has stepped in and now plays as our six and is doing an incredible job. And then there’s been players that have been on the team, for instance, a Sunshine Fontes, Michaela Rosenbaum, others that have really embraced kind of a little more structure, which I think helps them out. And they’re finding ways to score goals. So even in our last game, we scored four goals, three of them came from the midfield. So we’re hoping that you know, given the opportunity, the players that we have are going to be able to do the job, and all credit to them. They’ve been really working hard over the last three, four months to fit into a newer system and I think really just step up to the plate. They’ve been fantastic. So we’ll see. I feel good. I feel good about our midfield.

DB: This team is coming off back-to-back Pac-12 titles, but at the same time, two early exits from the NCAA tournament. How do you make this team go on a deep postseason run? And what can you maybe take from your postseason experience with Stanford?

MA: One thing I think unique to championship teams is like, even winning the Pac-12, it’s great, but it’s really just a step to win a national championship. And I think that’s where we’re going to have to change our focus a little bit. We want our teams to be peaking in November, and everything we do is sights set on the tournament. So even early in the season, we’ll challenge ourselves. We have some great contests coming up. We’re going to look at that as like, ‘OK, what are we gaining in order to prepare ourselves for the tournament?’ Obviously, this will be my first time, so we’re going to do the best we can, but I think just like really helping our team understand that as the season progresses, little by little, you’re just building, building, building, building, building. It’s not just the 10 games of Pac-12. Everything we do leading up to it is, ‘OK, what did we gain from that that’s going to help us in the tournament?’ And then, honestly, it’s player management. Can we do the work now, which I feel really good about what we’ve done over the last few weeks and months in terms of building ourselves up physically. Build a great fitness base, do the strength training necessary to make us just a little more durable through the year. That’s the hardest part, is managing players because the season is short. We play a lot of games. So we need to be able to use our depth, manage minutes, manage training, figure out kind of what’s the best way to do that so especially from the physical side, we’re feeling good going into November.

DB: You mentioned that you’re from the Bay Area, but what has been your favorite part about UCLA and LA itself so far?

MA: Oh my gosh, I live near the beach. It’s like really new. I don’t know if anyone’s been up to the Bay Area, but the beach is not really the beach. It’s not the same. You go to the beach in sweats and a sweatshirt even in July – like, it’s cold. And so it’s weird for me, I live about five minutes from the beach and can just go down there, walk along the pier and be warm. And so that’s that’s been really nice. Also, the people. I thought moving from the Bay Area, LA was going to be more intense. I’ve never really lived in the heart or even close to the heart of a big city. In the Bay Area, we were 45 minutes from San Francisco. So it’s different. But the people are way more chill than I thought. The Bay Area’s more intense. LA is way more chill.

DB: You guys have obviously had two spring games and then one more coming tonight (Friday). We asked about your first impressions. If we can get just one or two players that really impressed you either in practice or in these two games that you’ve seen so far.

MA: I could name like seven. But one unsung hero that I’m really excited for is Sunshine. She has been fantastic. When she was in high school, she was one of the top recruits in the country. And she hasn’t really shown that in her college career. And I’m hoping that she’ll be able to do that next fall. She’s put in the work. She looks like a different player. She’s doing some really incredible stuff. So she has been a huge highlight. We’ve had a couple of the younger players come in early, they’ve been fantastic. But like I said, I could sit here and name 28 different players. Every single one has brought something special. Every single one has been critical to the quote-unquote ‘success’ that we’ve had this spring.

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Sam Settleman | Sports editor
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Diego Farinha | Sports staff
Farinha is currently a Sports staffer on the softball beat. He was previously a reporter on the women's soccer beat.
Farinha is currently a Sports staffer on the softball beat. He was previously a reporter on the women's soccer beat.
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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