2022-2023 UCLA sports season previews

(Biona Hui/Daily Bruin)

By Jay Fenn, Jon Christon, Francis Moon, Nick Darrow, Grace Whitaker, Sam Settleman, Lauryn Wang, Isabelle Friedman, Amy Ionescu, Gavin Carlson, Sabrina Baker, Alexander Chesney, Jack Nelson, Bryan Palmero, Kyle Boal

August 15, 2022 at 11:50 a.m.

Baseball
Jay Fenn, Daily Bruin staff

Best case: College World Series appearance

Although UCLA baseball lost its top three pitchers – right-handers Thatcher Hurd, Jared Karros and Max Rajcic – to LSU, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals, respectively, the blue and gold have an immense amount of talent returning on the offensive end. The Bruins will bring back six out of nine offensive starters from a lineup that scored 81 runs across its final nine games. Additionally, UCLA will benefit from the return of rising sophomore outfielder Malakhi Knight, who missed the end of the season with an injury and is expected to provide a significant boost to an already efficient offense. If rising sophomore shortstop Cody Schrier can repeat his dominant freshman season that earned him Consensus Freshman All-American honors, the Bruins’ offense will be in good shape to make a huge jump. You need to score runs to win, and UCLA will be able to do a lot of that if the offense clicks.

Worst case: Narrowly miss NCAA tournament

As good as UCLA’s offense projects to be, the pitching outlook is not as bright. With Hurd, Karros and Rajcic gone, the weekend rotation is wide open. If the pitching takes a step down from last year like most expect it will and the Bruin offense does not live up to the hype, it is fair to say the blue and gold’s postseason streak will come to an end.

Storyline to watch: Pitching staff

Coach John Savage is considered by many around college baseball to be a mastermind when it comes to developing pitchers. That title will surely be tested this upcoming season, as he will have to put together a pitching staff of inexperienced and unproven arms. There are roughly six candidates for the three starter spots, with all six having shown flashes of both greatness and weakness in the 2022 season.

Basketball (men’s)
Jon Christon, Daily Bruin senior staff

Best case: Pac-12 champions and Final Four contenders

A year ago, UCLA men’s basketball returned an entire Final Four rotation and had sky-high expectations. The Bruins won’t have the same veteran luxuries this season, but rest assured, it’s still Pac-12 championship or bust for the blue and gold. Coach Mick Cronin brings back rising senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and rising redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell, two players who will surely garner preseason All-American recognition. Add in a star-studded freshman class and the continued development of rising junior guard Jaylen Clark, and the conference’s most dominant program can add another trophy before joining the Big Ten.

Worst case: Upper-tier Pac-12

Losing three starters will hinder any team, regardless of who replaces the departures. And although much offseason buzz has been given to the new additions and the increased roles for some of the returnees, the jury is still out on the roster Cronin has constructed for 2023. The Bruins still have multiple scholarships to play with, but as of now, they roster only one wing 6-foot-7 or taller after losing five such players in the offseason and have just one rotation-caliber center. Entering his fourth season in Westwood, Cronin will rely on unproven players more than ever before. Still, the duo of Campbell and Jaquez will give UCLA a high enough floor to finish near the top of what is expected to be a weak Pac-12.

Storyline to watch: Adem Bona’s instant impact

Incoming freshman guard Amari Bailey will get the headlines for the class of 2022, but it’ll be the Bruins’ other five-star recruit that will get the spotlight early. Center Adem Bona currently slots in as UCLA’s starting big after the offseason departures of forward Cody Riley and center Myles Johnson. Behind Bona will be two players – rising redshirt senior forward/center Kenneth Nwuba and rising redshirt sophomore forward Mac Etienne – whom Cronin has seldom trusted when available. This means the bulk of the responsibility will fall on Bona. He looked worthy in prep play and youth international competition, but the only question is if it will translate at the next level. If it does, UCLA will be competing deep into March and Bona will be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.

Basketball (women’s)
Francis Moon, Daily Bruin senior staff

Best case: Top three in the Pac-12 and an Elite Eight run

With a chance to redeem an early-round NCAA tournament upset in 2021, UCLA women’s basketball missed March Madness altogether in 2022. But just as coach Cori Close guided the Bruins to at least the Sweet 16 four consecutive times from 2016 to 2019 after missing the tournament in 2015, this year’s team has the potential to bounce back with a rejuvenated core as a dark horse contender for the national championship. To take some of the load off rising senior guard Charisma Osborne, the team will welcome the addition of key rotation players returning from seasonlong injuries as well as the top-ranked recruiting class in both the nation and program history. With their most complete rotation in recent memory, the Bruins can challenge for a top spot in the Pac-12 after finishing in the bottom half last season for the first time in eight years.

Worst case: Mid-tier Pac-12 and a First Four selection

Losing three of your top four scorers is never a good thing. Though there are candidates to step up to the plate, the uncertainty is not unlike what surrounded the team this time last year. Some factors were out of their control, but the Bruins often faltered because of fatigue and a disorganized offense which, in a conference as loaded as the Pac-12, could prove detrimental to their hopes of securing a high seed in the NCAA tournament. It is tough to see this version of the team miss out on the Big Dance again, but if UCLA can’t maintain consistency and address its second-half woes, it would be difficult to envision the blue and gold making it past the first two rounds.

Storyline to watch: Can the freshman class make an immediate impact?

The growth of Osborne in her senior campaign, the delayed debut of graduate student guard Gina Conti and the pressure on Close are just a few of many talking points for the Bruins next season, but we would be remiss not to highlight the potential impact of the newest members in town. The No. 2 prospect, guard Kiki Rice, headlines the incoming group of freshmen that also includes guard Londynn Jones and forwards Gabriela Jaquez, Christeen Iwuala and Lina Sontag. With the potential to help vault UCLA back atop women’s basketball, the class brings a mix of size, versatility and playmaking that addresses many of the team’s weak points on both ends of the court, and can make the team better right away if it can minimize its adjustment period to the college level.

Beach volleyball
Nick Darrow, Daily Bruin contributor

Best case: National champions

After a loss in the NCAA semifinals to Florida State, UCLA beach volleyball should be poised to come back stronger than ever and bring home a national championship. With the return of numerous experienced players in rising junior Devon Newberry, rising junior Lexy Denaburg and rising senior Lindsey Sparks, the blue and gold have a deep roster that is ready to make an impact. Two-time defending champion USC is also losing multiple starting players to graduation, a big factor helping the Bruins’ cause.

Worst case: Second in Pac-12 and early tournament exit

Despite the star-studded Bruin roster with multiple former All-Pac-12 players, because of the grueling schedule of the NCAA tournament, an early exit could still be a possibility. In the 2022 NCAA championship tournament, No. 2 seed TCU lost two early matches and was sent home after back-to-back losses to the No. 10 and No. 6 seeds. The Pac-12 seems to be another two-horse race as it has been in years past with USC and UCLA – as the last six national champions have been one of the two LA teams – and a second-place finish could give them a tougher draw in the NCAA tournament, resulting in an early exit.

Storyline to watch: The return of Lindsey Sparks

One of the biggest storylines going into the 2021 season was the loss of Sparks to injury just prior to the season. After being selected to the All-Pac-12 Second Team in 2021 behind a 24-6 record on the season and having a 69-11 career record, Sparks was slated to be an integral part of the Bruins’ team. She now is ready to return for her fifth year of eligibility, playing a final year on the team she has represented for the last four years. With only Lea Monkhouse leaving after last season, Sparks can fit right into the lineup and have a huge impact from the start.

Cross country
Grace Whitaker, assistant Sports editor

Best case: Finishing in the top 10 of the NCAA West Regionals

Last year’s season ended with UCLA cross country falling short of placing in the top 10 overall in the NCAA West Regionals. In the competition, the Bruins were led by rising redshirt junior Peter Herold, who placed 24th in the 10,000-meter race with a time of 30:18.2. The Pac-12 tournament was more successful for the blue and gold, as both the men’s and women’s teams finished in the top 10 – men’s in sixth and women’s in eighth – setting the Bruins up to accomplish the same this season. This year, Herold and fellow ranked runner rising senior Emma Tavella are returning for another season in Westwood. Their return, coupled with the introduction of new freshman Bruins, could lead to higher standings in the Pac-12 and a deep postseason run.

Worst case: Not placing in the top 10 of both invitationals

Since the Bruins failed to finish in the top 10 of the NCAA West Regionals last year, it is possible they will not be able to in the coming season. Despite UCLA’s return of its fastest runners and the introduction of a new class of freshman, other Pac-12 teams are gearing up for an interesting season. Oregon and Arizona State both welcomed new head coaches that can bring new perspectives to their programs, and four fellow Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 30 nationally last season, with Stanford ranked No. 5. This could lead to a tough battle in the conference this season.

Storyline to watch: Peter Herold

Herold is a standout for the blue and gold, leading the UCLA men’s team in four of its six invitationals last season. His speed even landed him in the top 30 of both the Pac-12 championships and the NCAA West Regionals. Herold is one runner to watch for next season, and he could be the Bruins’ key to placing in the top 10 of the NCAA West Regionals.

Football
Sam Settleman, Sports editor

Best case: 10-2 record and a bowl game win

If UCLA football wants to make a statement, this is the season to do it. The Bruins have a breeze of a nonconference schedule and a favorable Pac-12 slate in a conference that isn’t much deeper than three teams. With rising fifth-year senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and rising senior running back Zach Charbonnet spearheading the offense, the Bruins should have no problem finding the end zone. It might take a couple favorable bounces here and there, but with no bad losses and a home win over Utah or USC, a 10-2 record isn’t out of the question for UCLA in 2022.

Worst case: Bottom tier of the Pac-12 South

Thompson-Robinson may be back, but his favorite targets won’t be. UCLA lost its top three receivers this offseason with Kyle Philips and Greg Dulcich going to the NFL and Chase Cota transferring to Oregon. The Bruins added some receiving options from the transfer portal, including incoming graduate transfer wide receiver Jake Bobo from Duke, but it might not be enough to combat the losses of Philips and Dulcich. If its defense can’t take a leap this year and the offense doesn’t click early, UCLA could slide down the Pac-12 South standings.

Storyline to watch: Defensive coordinator Bill McGovern

Offense hasn’t been the issue for the Bruins in recent years. Under defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, UCLA had some of the worst passing defenses in the nation over the last four seasons. But after much criticism, Azzinaro resigned in January and was replaced by Bill McGovern. It might be his first season with the blue and gold, but expectations will certainly be high for McGovern and his defense.

Golf (men’s)
Lauryn Wang, assistant Sports editor

Best case: NCAA regionals appearance

UCLA men’s golf has failed to reach the NCAA regionals as a team since 2019. But the blue and gold can flip the script this year with the leadership of a new head coach: former Arizona State associate head coach Armen Kirakossian. Alongside Kirakossian, the Bruins are welcoming three new faces to Westwood in the fall – Kyle An, Lincoln Melcher and Matthew Yamin. While former 15-year coach Derek Freeman recruited all three of the incoming freshmen, Kirakossian’s singular ability to coach young talent is evidenced by an impressive track record. The former Sun Devil has coached each of the last three Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year Award winners. If Kirakossian can shape a deep team to trust in his vision, the Bruins will be prepared to go further in the postseason.

Worst case: Mid-tier Pac-12

The Bruins jumped six places in the Pac-12 championships from 2021 to 2022 – from dead last to sixth. If the pattern persists, they could vault from sixth to first in 2023. However, that turnaround will not be in the cards for the Bruins if they can’t fill the vacancies of departing golfers Eddy Lai and Devon Bling. Combined, the then-graduate students were the leading scorers in six of UCLA’s 11 tournaments last year. The Bruins will be destined to settle for middle of the pack again if the underclassmen can’t rise to the occasion.

Storyline to watch: Pablo Ereño Perez’s sophomore leap

Rising sophomore Pablo Ereño Perez is primed for a breakthrough season. In his rookie campaign, Ereño Perez achieved the third-lowest scoring average of regular starters at 72.6, behind only Lai and Bling. He led UCLA in scoring in each of its last four tournaments of the season and carried the momentum into the summer, when he posted a pair of 5-under 67s en route to an eighth-place finish at the FISU World University Golf Championships. If Ereño Perez can improve his consistency, he will anchor the blue and gold this upcoming season.

Golf (women’s)
Isabelle Friedman, Daily Bruin senior staff

Best case: NCAA finals

UCLA women’s golf is trending upward. After a 15th-place finish at the NCAA championships in 2021, the Bruins managed a monumental turnaround – securing a quarterfinal national finish in 2022. UCLA will retain the majority of its starting lineup in the upcoming season, and its underclassmen have made notable gains at several amateur competitions in the collegiate offseason. If the Bruins capitalize on the momentum they’ve maintained this year, they are certainly capable of achieving a championship berth.

Worst case: Early NCAA championships exit

UCLA is also losing a key leader to the professional ranks this year in Emma Spitz. A three-time ANNIKA Award finalist, Spitz was the Bruins’ lowest scorer for the majority of the team’s appearances last season, so UCLA will be missing a critically consistent and successful player. Her strong finishes at the NCAA regionals and championships over the last two seasons were especially remarkable, and such an ability to perform under pressure carried the team. If the Bruins are unable to account for this roster loss, it could spell relative disaster: something akin to a second- or third-round loss at the NCAA championships and UCLA’s worst season finish in years.

Storyline to watch: Standout sophomore

Rising redshirt sophomore Alessia Nobilio has started to make a name for herself. After spending her first year at UCLA in Italy because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nobilio has come to Westwood with a drive like no other. She earned a consistent spot in the starting lineup and has already notched four top-10 finishes. With a few too many sub-30th finishes, she wasn’t the team leader this season, but the potential is undeniable. Consistency will come with a bit more experience at the collegiate level, and Nobilio will surely be a standout among the Bruins.

Gymnastics
Sam Settleman, Sports editor

Best case: A return to nationals

There are a lot of unknowns for UCLA gymnastics in 2023. With a new coaching staff at the helm and some veterans on the way out, the blue and gold’s roster will look different next year. One sure thing, however, is the Bruins have talent. UCLA’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class from a year ago – featuring rising sophomores Jordan Chiles and Emma Malabuyo – had a memorable debut season. Now, the Bruins will add the top recruit in the country in Selena Harris while former five-star recruit Emily Lee will return from injury. Barring injuries, this team has the potential to reach the NCAA championships.

Worst case: Fourth in the Pac-12

Championship teams sometimes take a while to develop. UCLA had an offseason full of change with a completely revamped coaching staff and the departure of Norah Flatley to Arkansas. With the only remaining members of the 2018 championship-winning team now gone and a relatively inexperienced coaching staff taking over, this team might not be firing on all cylinders out of the gate. Given the number of promising squads in the Pac-12, a mediocre year could move the Bruins down to fourth in their conference.

Storyline to watch: New coaching staff

UCLA began a new era when it hired Janelle McDonald in May to replace Chris Waller as head coach. After 29 years of Valorie Kondos Field and three years of Waller, the Bruins looked outside their program for their new coach and wound up with one of the top assistants in the country. McDonald’s prowess as a bars coach should help get UCLA back on track on an event it struggled with last year while her staff of accomplished club coaches and returning assistant coach BJ Das will try to return the Bruins back to their spot atop the sport.

Rowing
Amy Ionescu, assistant Sports editor

Best case: Top-10 finish

With the word “interim” removed from coach Previn Chandraratna’s title, this year is already off to a better start than the last for UCLA rowing. The 2022 season proved a rebuilding year for a young team, but the Bruins still managed a season-high ranking of No. 16 – with the varsity eight less than four seconds behind crosstown rival USC in the Pac-12 championships. Under the right direction and with steady progression, the team could graze the top 10 in rankings, recording their best finish under Chandraratna as a head coach.

Worst case: Last in the Pac-12

The Bruins came in dead last in every race at last year’s Longhorn Invitational. The varsity eight only broke past the bottom two once in all six of its invitational races. As a whole, the team finished at the very bottom more often than not. And even though the blue and gold is by no means deserving of another lackluster season, it could face formidable opponents in the Pac-12 because of a conference littered with top rowing teams including 2022 NCAA runner-up Stanford, No. 8 Washington and No. 10 California – a crew which makes a Bruin finish at the very bottom increasingly feasible.

Storyline to watch: Growth continuing from last season

2022 offered a chance for a young team to develop alongside each other. 2023 presents a chance to show off their newfound cohesion. With only five departing graduates and a whopping 26 rising sophomores, UCLA rowing had to rely on a young team to get them through last season. With the entirety of the Pac-12 championship varsity eight returning and the growing young talent, the team has the opportunity to take the lessons of last season and transform them into results.

Soccer (men’s)
Nick Darrow, Daily Bruin contributor

Best case: Compete for a Pac-12 title and earn a top-16 seed in the tournament

After jumping from a 3-7-2 record in 2020 to a 11-7-1 record in 2021, UCLA men’s soccer may be primed for another vast improvement, not just in the Pac-12 but also nationally. Last year, the blue and gold finished third in the Pac-12 behind two top-three teams nationally, Oregon State and Washington, and the Bruins have added seven recruits in a variety of positions ready to make an impact. They also return three of their four leading point-getters, including rising redshirt sophomore Tucker Lepley. On the other end, UCLA was very solid defensively last year, only allowing 1.32 goals per game. Following a top-25 finish last season, the next plausible step is a finish in the top-16 range to earn a bye in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Worst case: Missing out on the NCAA tournament

One of the significant factors in the Bruins’ success last season was the play of then-senior goalkeeper Justin Garces. In 14 games played, Garces only allowed 15 goals. However, he was unable to play the final few games because of injury, and rising sophomore keeper Nate Crockford was put into the net. Moving forward into the 2022 season, he will be tasked with greater responsibility to produce for the blue and gold. UCLA must also avoid upsets to lower-tier teams during regular season play, as any loss to last year’s bottom teams, California and San Diego State, could be detrimental to the Bruins’ postseason resume.

Storyline to watch: The growth of Tommy Silva

After being one of six players to start in all 19 games for UCLA, rising junior Tommy Silva must be ready to recreate the magic he manifested for the Bruins throughout last season. With the team lead in goals throughout the year and finishing the season with an All-Pac-12 Second Team award, Silva made a large impact not just as a defender but also as a goal-scorer. This year, Silva is going to be a veteran player who will have to be a leader on and off the field for the Bruins to have success throughout the year.

Soccer (women’s)
Jay Fenn, Daily Bruin staff

Best case: National champions

Last season, UCLA women’s soccer – after winning the Pac-12 championship – lost its first game of the season in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This upcoming season, eight of the 11 starters will return from the 2021 campaign, headlined by rising graduate student goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy. In front of Brzykcy, the blue and gold will return its entire back line that allowed 12 goals all season. Although UCLA lost two of its midfield leaders – Olivia Athens and Marley Canales – the Bruins’ deep bench should have no issue filling the void. Between all of this, UCLA will have one of the best rosters in the country with a real chance to win the national championship for the second time in school history.

Worst case: Sweet 16

There are two things that might hinder the Bruins’ dreams of a national championship. First, how will the new coaching staff affect the team? A new coach introduces a new dynamic, which does not guarantee the Bruins will have the same success they saw in 2021. Second, who will score? UCLA will lose four players who combined to score 22 out of the 40 goals last season, so multiple Bruins will need to step up to replace that offensive production to produce a deep postseason run.

Storyline to watch: Who will replace Mia Fishel?

Before Mia Fishel was drafted fifth overall in the National Women’s Soccer League, she was easily the Bruins’ best player. The forward scored six game-winning goals throughout the season and always seemed to find the back of the net when the Bruins needed it most. With Fishel gone, who will UCLA look to in desperation? The best bet is rising junior forward Reilyn Turner, who scored 10 goals last season one year after winning the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award.

Softball
Gavin Carlson, Daily Bruin staff

Best case: National champions

Competing in its seventh straight Women’s College World Series last season, UCLA softball suffered a 15-0 season-ending defeat to the eventual national champion, Oklahoma. But don’t let the shocking loss fool you – this is still one of the best programs in college softball. The reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Megan Faraimo is still in Westwood, multiple-time First Team All-American sluggger Aaliyah Jordan is back after last year’s season-ending injury for her seventh season with UCLA, and new faces are on the way. The Bruins added former All-Pac-12 First Team honoree Brooke Yanez – an incoming graduate transfer – to the rotation through the transfer portal and tout the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class. As she does every season, the now-UCLA Athletic Hall of Famer – coach Kelly Inouye-Perez – has formed a roster that can compete for a title.

Worst case: Super Regional exit

Help is on the way, but the Bruins’ departures – especially the two best field players from last season – might be too much to overcome. Infielder Delanie Wisz was the blue and gold’s unquestioned top hitter last season, while infielder Briana Perez finished one of the best all-around careers in UCLA softball history with a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award. Throw in the key departures of two former national champions in infielder Kinsley Washington and pitcher Holly Azevedo as well, and you have to wonder if this year’s team has the personnel necessary to fill the massive holes.

Storyline to watch: Can the Bruins be elite offensively?

Yanez and Faraimo have the potential to be even better than last year’s Faraimo-Azevedo partnership that drove the Bruins’ top-five ERA nationally. But the 2022 season proved that elite pitching can only get you so far. UCLA’s offense will have to improve to reach the team’s lofty expectations, but the 2023 lineup looks worse on paper. Can Jordan and rising redshirt junior utility Maya Brady carry the offense? Can multiple top-10 recruits have an instant impact? Which current players will step up? These questions will make or break the Bruins’ season.

Swim and dive
Sabrina Baker, Daily Bruin contributor

Best case: Pac-12 podium finish

Under coach Jordan Wolfrum, UCLA swim and dive has had three top-four Pac-12 championship finishes in three years. This past season, despite only having one conference win, the Bruins finished solidly in fourth at the Pac-12 championships – 147.5 points ahead of fifth-place Arizona but falling 475.5 points behind third-place crosstown competitor USC. With the return of rising senior diver Hannah Butler and rising fifth-year swimmer Claire Grover, who both qualified for the NCAA championships last season, the blue and gold can likely strive to repeat its 2021 performance and achieve a podium finish at the 2023 Pac-12 championships.

Worst case: Fifth place or lower in the Pac-12

Prior to a Wolfrum-headed team, the Bruins had not placed higher than fifth at the Pac-12 championships since 2014. Although the blue and gold regressed to a fourth-place finish this past season, it still remained in the top half of the Pac-12 swim and dive teams. The Bruins also displayed their plethora of talent by sending three swimmers and a diver to the NCAA championships. During her time at UCLA, Wolfrum has maintained the Bruins’ position as part of the top half of the Pac-12 teams, so dropping into the bottom half at the Pac-12 championships proves unlikely.

Storyline to watch: Claire Grover’s fifth-year season

Grover announced April 5 that she would be returning for a fifth season. Thus far, Grover has consistently qualified for the NCAA championships in at least one event. Despite spending most of this last season recovering from an injury, she swam the 50-yard freestyle, the 100-yard breaststroke and the 100-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships. She placed 13th in the 50-yard freestyle, earning her College Swimming Coaches Association of America All-American honors for the second time in her collegiate career. Last season against USC, Grover won the 50-yard freestyle and placed second in the 100-yard freestyle. As Grover enters her fifth season, the 2022 team MVP is a swimmer to watch, especially since now uninjured, she has the potential to bring great success to the team.

Tennis (men’s)
Alexander Chesney, Sports contributor

Best case: Win the Pac-12 championships

After losing in the semifinals of the Pac-12 championships to end the 2021-2022 season, UCLA men’s tennis is welcoming two blue-chip recruits: Aadarsh Tripathi and Azuma Visaya. The Bruins’ No. 17-ranked recruiting class will supplement a lineup that finished last season ranked in the top 50 of the ITA team rankings. The blue and gold could potentially lose six players, but last season’s performances by rising sophomores Alexander Hoogmartens, Karl Lee and Giacomo Revelli should give fans hope that the Bruins will return as a collegiate tennis powerhouse.

Worst case: Middle of the Pac-12

Following a 4-5 start to the season, injuries to Hoogmartens and rising senior Drew Baird could have been the undoing of UCLA’s campaign. Instead, the Bruins had a late-season surge without their top singles players, riding a three-match win streak into the Pac-12 championships and starting postseason play with a 4-2 triumph over Utah four days after being swept by the Utes. Washington would end the blue and gold’s run with a narrow 4-3 defeat decided in the third set of the last singles match, revealing that the Bruins ultimately lacked the experience necessary to go the distance. UCLA may take until the home stretch of the season to hit its stride and may endure a bumpy road to get there.

Storyline to watch: Rising sophomores could make a noticeable leap

Coach Billy Martin has shown a knack for developing talent at UCLA, so expect this year to be no different. The Bruins will bring back five then-underclassmen who cracked the starting lineup last year, including Hoogmartens, Lee, Revelli and rising redshirt sophomore Jeffrey Fradkin. With a season of experience under their belts, these former newcomers should be expected to assert themselves near the top of the ITA rankings.

Tennis (women’s)
Jack Nelson, assistant Sports editor

Best case: Pac-12 regular-season champion

After a rocky start last season, UCLA women’s tennis got hot in conference play, going 7-0 before a loss to USC ripped a second straight Pac-12 regular-season title out of the blue and gold’s hands. If the Bruins want to get back to that position and seal the deal this time around, emerging young talent will need to do more than offset the departure of Abbey Forbes and Elysia Bolton. A young talent has already exploded onto the scene in the form of rising sophomore Kimmi Hance, and another may soon emerge with incoming freshman and No. 7-ranked recruit, Anne Lutkemeyer. If complemented by veteran leaps from rising senior Sasha Vagramov and rising junior Vanessa Ong, UCLA can return to the pinnacle of Pac-12 tennis.

Worst case: Finish in the middle of the Pac-12

The veteran hole left by Forbes and Bolton may leave UCLA exposed against the upper echelon of the Pac-12. Post-COVID-19 Bruin teams have gone a combined 1-7 in 4-3 decisions, and the seasoned veterans that struggled to prevail in those tight situations won’t be around in 2022-2023. If this season’s prospective leaders – Vagramov and Ong – can’t buck that trend, the Bruins may very well see their lowest conference finish in years.

Storyline to watch: Kimmi Hance’s follow-up to a stellar freshman year

Hance set a high bar in her first season in Westwood. The All-Pac-12 honorable mention cruised to a 24-2 dual-match record across singles and doubles action, winning her first 12 doubles matches and final 12 singles contests. Fans can expect to regularly see Hance on the front courts in singles play and potentially in an early season battle with Vagramov for the No. 1 spot. A spike in ranked competition awaits Hance regardless of where a singles promotion takes her, and she’ll have to come out hot and stay that way if she wants to match her 2021-2022 win total.

Track and field
Lauryn Wang, assistant Sports editor

Best case: Both teams finish top three in the Pac-12

This may be the breakthrough season UCLA track and field has been anticipating. The Bruins are returning key players from last year who are primed for their best seasons yet. Rising senior sprinters Ismail Turner and Cameron Reynolds secured second-team All-America honors for their performances in the semifinals of the NCAA championships after both etching their names in UCLA’s all-time top 10 with personal-best times of 45.06 and 45.07, respectively, in the 400-meter. The women’s team is also returning successful veterans in rising senior sprinters Catherine Leger, Maddy Doane and Makenzy Pierre-Webster, as well as rising junior sprinter Kate Jendrezak, who earned All-American honors for the 4×400-meter at the NCAA indoor championships. These notable Bruins can capitalize on the momentum from last season and propel UCLA to the upper echelons of the conference.

Worst case: Both teams finish mid-tier in the Pac-12

Despite successful performances from some relay squads, the women’s and men’s teams finished at sixth and seventh, respectively, at the conference championships last season. A handful of standout performances will not carry the entire team, so the Bruins will need to lean on results and success from more events if they hope to carve out a place in the Pac-12 again. It is also unknown how the women’s team will adjust to the loss of sprinter Shae Anderson, who finished sixth in the 400-meter at the NCAA championships with a time of 51.50 and later helped a squad including Leger, Pierre-Webster and Jendrezak secure seventh place in the 4×400-meter.

Storyline to watch: Young potential and a leadership vacuum

The worst-case scenario may not come to fruition given the young talent that UCLA boasts. Rising sophomore throwers Kris Emig and Lyvante Su’emai both secured fourth-place finishes in the discus at the Pac-12 championships. And in their penultimate meet of the regular season, the Bruins notched nine first-place finishes with a few notable rookies shining through. Rising sophomore distance runner Audrey Allen placed first in the women’s 5,000-meter, rising junior thrower Aidan Elbettar finished first in the discus, and rising sophomore jumper Aaron Kim notched first in the men’s high jump after clearing 2 meters (6-06.75). With a season of collegiate competition under their belts, these underclassmen are primed to make an impact next season.

Volleyball (men’s)
Bryan Palmero, Daily Bruin senior staff

Best case: National championship appearance

UCLA men’s volleyball saw its best season since 2018 go up in flames at the worst possible time: a reverse sweep defeat to Long Beach State in the NCAA tournament semifinals. It’d be remiss to overlook how the blue and gold got there in the first place, however, as it compiled a nine-week run atop the American Volleyball Coaches Association Coaches Poll throughout the year – its longest country-leading stretch since 1995. The Bruins are returning at least four AVCA All-Americans and rising senior outside hitter Alex Knight, while they will have one less thing to worry about with reigning AVCA National Player of the Year Alex Nikolov of the Beach headed for the pros. Watch out for a UCLA-Hawai’i final in May.

Worst case: Semifinal exit

The Bruins appear to be on the cusp of something, thanks to a treasure trove of talent. Yet an NCAA-leading five AVCA All-Americans still weren’t enough for the blue and gold to escape the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament or advance to an NCAA tournament final. These postseason losses brew concerns about UCLA’s experience and chemistry, especially with many moving pieces on the fringe of the starting lineup. Coach John Speraw’s tendency to flex his depth might rub the team the wrong way, and the Bruins’ playoff woes could make an untimely return.

Storyline to watch: Returning players

It’s a promising sign to largely return a team that knocked on the door of a finals berth. Rising junior setter/opposite Miles Partain is back to facilitate the offense, rising junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin and Knight will spearhead the pins, and middle blocker duo of rising redshirt junior Merrick McHenry and rising redshirt sophomore Guy Genis should lock down the middle. Even UCLA’s libero position is set with the transfer of honorable mention AVCA All-American selection Troy Gooch. Continuity may be boring, but it’s exactly what the Bruins need at their core.

Volleyball (women’s)
Amy Ionescu, assistant Sports editor

Best case: Elite Eight exit

Last season, UCLA women’s volleyball broke past the second round in the NCAA tournament, shattering a three-year Sweet Sixteen drought. Alongside postseason success, the Bruins achieved their best record since 2011 – a year in which they managed to secure the 108th national championship title for the blue and gold. Despite losing a chunk of its offense, key UCLA players – including rising graduate student outside hitter/opposite élan McCall and rising sophomore outside hitter/opposite Charitie Luper – are returning. Meanwhile, the incoming class boasts graduate transfer setter Matti McKissock, who managed to facilitate an Elite Eight run for Georgia Tech in the 2021 season, alongside graduate transfer defensive specialist/libero MacKenzie Cole, the 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year hailing from Duke. Although the Bruins are most likely not going to see a repeat of their decade-prior championship run this season, a slightly deeper postseason exit is not out of the question.

Worst case: Inability to adjust to roster changes leads to problems

The blue and gold hasn’t missed an NCAA tournament in three years. However, the change coming to the 2022 season might prove to be the Bruins’ downfall. With the departure of setter Shelby Martin and outside hitter/opposite Mac May, alongside the loss of defensive specialist/libero Zoe Fleck, the Bruins will be forced to scramble to find replacements. With a history of inconsistent play rearing its ugly head in recent seasons, it’s not unlikely that the Bruins will have a tough time adjusting.

Storyline to watch: Loss of Mac May leaves big shoes to fill

May is something of an offensive legend. Third in UCLA all-time kills and aces and leading the Bruins in kills four of her five seasons, the 6-foot-3 outside hitter/opposite was a force to be reckoned with. Coach Michael Sealy will undoubtedly be struggling to find someone to fill the void of her exit. Potential candidates include McCall, who will likely become a key part of the offense next season after getting relegated to defense in 2021, and rising sophomore Luper, who ranked second for the Bruins in kills during her freshman campaign. McCall ranked second behind May in kills per set in the 2020 season and managed 40 service aces this past season. Meanwhile the four-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week in Luper led the Bruins in kills and points in five of her 18 matches.

Water polo (men’s)
Kyle Boal, Daily Bruin senior staff

Best case: NCAA champions

To sit atop college water polo is not an unfamiliar feat for UCLA men’s water polo, who has won half of the national championships contested since 2014. The blue and gold will lose a handful of key players to graduation such as attacker Nicolas Saveljic, who led the blue and gold to the national championship two seasons ago. But the Bruins are loaded with young talent, with 23 redshirt sophomores or younger on the roster last season and an incoming class of six commits including Noah Rowe, Gray Carson and Ben Larsen. UCLA’s schedule includes a number of home games against pivotal opponents such as California and USC, with the only nonneutral road contest against a 2021 top-five team being versus Stanford – whom the blue and gold have beaten six out of seven times since 2020. If everything clicks late in the season, the Bruins will have their chances in the end.

Worst case: Injuries

No one wants to see players get hurt, but sometimes it happens. Starting goalkeeper rising senior Bernardo Maurizi was sidelined for the start of 2021 because of an injury. Recently graduated attacker Chasen Travisano dealt with similar circumstances last season in his final year at UCLA. If the Bruins are plagued with injury, their championship dreams could become obsolete.

Storyline to watch: Overcoming California

The Golden Bears are the defending national champions for a reason. Cutino Award winner and center Nikolaos Papanikolaou is almost certainly the best player in college water polo. Cal goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg has spent the summer playing with Team USA at the world championships after earning his second All-American honors earlier this year. The Bruins are just 1-6 with four overtime losses against the Golden Bears since 2020. If the Bruins want to be the best, they’ll have to beat the best.

Water polo (women’s)
Kyle Boal, Daily Bruin senior staff

Best case: NCAA champions

It’s no secret in the water polo world that the once perennial powerhouse in women’s water polo hasn’t won a national championship since 2009. Since UCLA women’s water polo won seven of the first nine NCAA championships starting in 2001 under coach Adam Krikorian, USC and Stanford have traded titles back and forth. The Bruins have been close several times, most recently two seasons ago when the blue and gold lost to the Trojans at home for the national championship. Despite losing arguably the world’s best player in attacker Maddie Musselman, the Bruins have some of the strongest depth in the NCAA with talented players accumulating big-game experience over the years. Stanford, the defending champion, will lose Olympian Makenzie Fischer, who came back for one final season in 2022. The timing is right for the Bruins to finally break through this season and end their championship drought.

Worst case: More of the same

The Bruins aren’t in the same tier as the Cardinal and Trojans. Nobody wants to play for four or more years and leave empty-handed, particularly at a program as historically prestigious as UCLA. The Bruins’ upperclassman core is in danger of doing just that. The blue and gold welcomed four impactful freshmen in 2022 and will bring in six more this season who will potentially be an immediate help. But at this point, it’s championship or failure for the Bruins.

Storyline to watch: Who steps up

Not only did everyone in Westwood know Musselman was the unofficial role model for the Bruins but so did everyone else in college water polo. By the end of the season, it was thought by some that if a team could shut down Musselman, they in turn stopped UCLA as a whole. With Musselman no longer in the picture, there are a dozen players who will have an opportunity to step up and fill the gap. If everyone rises to the occasion and unites around winning a national championship, anything is possible.

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