— UCLA Women's Soccer (@UCLAWSoccer) September 2, 2022
Communication, scanning the field and taking note of weak spots – a goalkeeper’s job description is much more than diving through the air to protect the goal.
In many ways, goalkeepers are tasked with being team leaders when they’re on the pitch.
And UCLA women’s soccer graduate student goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy is no exception.
“We’re definitely happy to have her back as the leader in – not just within our goalkeeping group but also within our team,” said coach Margueritte Aozasa.
Brzykcy enters her sixth season with the Bruins as one of the most accomplished goalkeepers in UCLA history – finishing the 2021 season sixth in career saves, shutouts and wins with an 849-minute shutout streak to boot.
She’s kicked off the 2022 season with a MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List nomination and back-to-back Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week nods.
While Brzykcy has made a name for herself between the sticks, she initially tried out as a forward until her club coach suggested she give goalkeeping a try. The rest is history, Brzykcy said.
The 2020 Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year said she loves the goalkeepers’ perspective of the whole field from afar and the ability to control the movements of the backline all the way to the forwards.
“I like flying around, and diving is super fun,” Brzykcy said. “I’m kind of crazy for that, but I guess you got to be a little crazy to be a goalkeeper – to get balls pretty much thrown at your face.”
While flying and diving around Wallis Annenberg Stadium has kept her busy for the last few years, Brzykcy did briefly step out of the box to take a short spin with UCLA softball in 2019.
When the blue and gold of Easton Stadium asked around for other Bruin athletes to step in as pinch runners with some of the roster was out with injuries, Brzykcy decided to try out and went on to help her fellow UCLA squad for a bit of the postseason leading up to the team’s national championship win shortly thereafter.
Although she thinks some were a little skeptical of a goalkeeper coming in as a pinch runner, Brzykcy had played softball alongside soccer for much of her life. But she said that when it came time to really pick a collegiate sport, she ultimately decided to pursue soccer out of pure love for the game.
While growing up with the sport, Brzykcy played soccer alongside a pair of fellow Bruins in graduate student defender Madelyn Desiano and graduate student forward Ally Cook. Cook – who played for Brzykcy’s rival club team – began her collegiate career playing for Oregon, and for several years, she and Brzykcy were back to being friendly competitors.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, she’s good. You really got to do well to get it past her,’” Cook said. “It was always a good time when we got to play against each other.”
Despite the conference rivalry, the pair remained friends, and after years of joking that perhaps Cook would one day transfer to UCLA, the two now have the opportunity to be roommates, teammates and classmates within the same graduate program.
No longer aiming to get a goal past Brzykcy, Cook said playing with such a reliable goalkeeper is a huge confidence booster.
“Even if our whole team – it gets through us – it’s like, ‘Oh, we still have Lauren,’ and there’s still a good chance (of) still not getting scored on,” Cook said.
Brzykcy’s leadership extends beyond the playing field, however, as she has created a platform on social media with more than 100,000 followers on TikTok alone. Much of her content focuses on soccer and highlights her teammates while simultaneously providing inspiring messages.
With a platform capable of reaching so many individuals, Brzykcy said it’s been special to do her part in shaping the next generation.
“People come up and ask for signatures or just pictures,” Brzykcy said. “I hope I make a positive impact on everyone I do talk to.”
In regard to the future, Brzykcy said she wants to play professional soccer in Europe and eventually find her way back to where she grew up in San Clemente, California, as a teacher, coach or combination of both.
She graduated from UCLA in the spring with a sociology degree and a minor in education and is currently studying in the transformative coaching and leadership graduate program, hoping to eventually teach students with disabilities.
Soon after coming to Westwood, Brzykcy discovered she had a learning disability that causes her to take longer to comprehend readings for class. Knowing firsthand that not everyone learns the same way, Brzykcy thinks it’s important to have more teachers for students with disabilities.
“I want to become a teacher for kids with disabilities to help them learn that it’s OK to do something a different way to still get the right result,” Brzykcy said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t understand that’s also a way of people learning. There’s so many different ways for people to learn.”
As one of the most veteran members of the squad, Brzykcy has helped contribute to a positive learning and social environment among the Bruins.
While many on the team consider her to be a leader, Brzykcy said she never could have predicted such a role. Nevertheless, she strives to lead by example.
“She’s really good at welcoming and checking in on people, seeing how everybody’s doing,” Cook said. “She’s just a very good positive encourager and always making sure everybody’s not too hard on themselves and encouraging them to do better.”
Her teammates have also seen how much Brzykcy has learned over the last few seasons with the Bruins.
Cook, who has known Brzykcy as a player and friend since she was 14, believes Brzykcy’s confidence has skyrocketed since joining the Bruins as she has had the opportunity to gain experience and maturity.
From Brzykcy’s perspective, the biggest takeaways from her years with the Bruins have been to no longer try to control the uncontrollable and to move on from mistakes quickly.
“Just learn from it and move on and have the memory of a fish,” Brzykcy said. “I always say that as a goalkeeper.”
UCLA has allowed Brzykcy to make lifelong friends and grow as a player and person – but in her final season with the Bruins, she has her eyes on the ultimate prize: a national championship.
After falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year, Brzykcy said the group is fired up and motivated to succeed in the postseason in 2022.
“Every game now is a national championship,” Brzykcy said. “We’re trying to be as prepared as we can be, as focused as we can be, to be able to get and win that national championship this year.”
UCLA had the opportunity to prove its mettle with back-to-back road matchups against then-No. 2 Duke and then-No. 1 North Carolina. Thirteen saves across the two games from Brzykcy sealed the deal for double blue and gold victories and a spot at the top of the rankings.
Leading the Bruins from the box, Brzykcy’s final campaign with UCLA is underway.