Battle of the Editors: Looking back at some of the top plays of 2022-2023 for UCLA athletics
Dorian Thompson-Robinson celebrates with his teammates during UCLA football’s win over Washington in 2022. (Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff)
The 2022-2023 season in UCLA athletics has seen many highlight plays across a wide array of different sports. With the sports year coming to a close, the Daily Bruin Sports editors are looking back at some of the top plays of the year across campus.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s juke leaves Huskies in the dust
Sam Settleman, Sports editor
It looked straight out of a cartoon.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson stood a yard out from the goal line, but two Washington defenders had converged on him, seemingly blocking any way through. The quarterback planted left, dipping his head inside as if preparing for impact.
But Thompson-Robinson wasn’t going inside. He wanted no part of that contact.
The pair of Husky defenders, closing in on the quarterback from opposite directions, lunged toward Thompson-Robinson. But neither caught the elusive quarterback. They caught each other instead.
After faking inside, Thompson-Robinson shifted back outside in the blink of an eye. With nothing but green grass left to beat, he walked untouched into the end zone as the Washington defenders lay in a heap behind him.
UCLA football was 4-0 at the time, facing its first ranked opponent of the season – No. 15 Washington. The Huskies boasted one of the top offenses in the country, but Thompson-Robinson was built for the Friday night lights.
That nifty juke wasn’t even the first time that day Thompson-Robinson turned heads with the ball in his hands. Just before the half, he scrambled out of the pocket and soared over a defender with his signature hurdle.
The Bruins assumed full control by halftime, up 26-10 with their offense firing on all cylinders. And on the first drive of the second half, Thompson-Robinson and company marched down the field once again.
With the ball at the three-yard line, Thompson-Robinson hurried his team to the line. He put the ball in the chest of running back Zach Charbonnet before pulling it himself and making a beeline for the end zone.
With one sidestep, he left two defenders in the dust. And with his third touchdown of the night, he all but punctuated a statement win for UCLA.
Lexi Wright’s dazzling display saves the day
Grace Whitaker, assistant Sports editor
UCLA women’s soccer is known for clutch plays in high-stakes moments.
Everyone remembers junior forward Reilyn Turner’s last-second goal to bring the Bruins even in the national championship game.
But before Turner’s iconic play, there was one by another Bruin, against the same opponent, in a similar heroic fashion.
In UCLA’s first matchup against then-top-ranked North Carolina, the Bruins found themselves trailing until very late into the game. They were down until the 60th minute, to be exact, when sophomore forward Lexi Wright took matters into her own hands.
After garnering possession from a teammate, Wright moved the ball one way, bringing two defenders along with her.
Then, as the pair of Tar Heels stumbled their way back up, she moved the ball to the other side before blasting it into the back of the net – and saving the game at the same time.
The play – excellent in craft – saved the Bruins in a contest against the best team in the nation, foreshadowing the events of the forthcoming national championship three months later.
Amari Bailey punks Pelle Larsson in poster dunk turned offensive foul
Lauryn Wang, assistant Sports editor
Amari Bailey gaped in disbelief.
Coach Mick Cronin shouted expletives incredulously.
Seconds before, the freshman guard surged down the lane and soared over Arizona guard Pelle Larsson.
Larsson raised two hands to no avail as Bailey elevated to complete the explosive poster. The Pac-12 championship game crowd roared, but the referees relished the last say on the dunk: offensive foul.
Players, coaches and fans alike were stunned. Bailey barely made contact with Larsson, whose feet were not planted at the time either.
And in a game in which the Bruins were down two starters, freshman forward Adem Bona and junior guard Jaylen Clark, every play counted. Every foul counted too. UCLA had already clinched the regular-season conference title, but Arizona was hungry for a repeat of last year’s victorious Pac-12 tournament championship.
After missing seven games in a one-month stretch starting in late December because of a foot injury, Bailey’s coming out came just in time for the postseason. That dunk epitomized his hailed athleticism, a harbinger of his potential in the professional ranks that will soon manifest in this year’s NBA Draft.
Obviously, hindsight is 20/20. But Bailey’s unjustly waived two-pointer was the difference in the 61-59 decision that ultimately fell in Arizona’s favor.
A two-sport athlete becomes a two-way player
Joseph Crosby, assistant Sports editor
The best high school baseball players typically pull double duty for their teams as both pitchers and hitters.
JonJon Vaughns was no different, earning a scouting report of a “very high ceiling two-way prospect” in 2019 from Perfect Game, a company that puts on high school baseball showcases.
Vaughns became a two-way player in a way that the scouting report didn’t predict, joining UCLA football as a linebacker while manning the outfield for UCLA baseball.
But the junior finally fulfilled his two-way prospect destiny May 9 when he made his collegiate pitching debut against Cal State Fullerton.
Armed with a low-90s fastball, Vaughns stepped on the rubber at Jackie Robinson Stadium in the top of the seventh inning. His team was already up 10-2, but the Bruins desperately needed a win amidst a five-game losing streak.
Thus, Vaughns was given the responsibility of making sure his team didn’t blow an eight-run lead.
And protect that lead he did.
Vaughns forced a foul out to third base on his third pitch before hitting the second batter he faced. Regardless of the runner on first, a flyout to right gave Vaughns his second out of the inning.
After walking his fourth batter, a flyout to center field ended the inning with no damage to UCLA’s lead, giving Vaughns the team’s best ERA at 0.00.
The lights may not have been at their brightest, but Vaughns still delivered. He played the part coach John Savage needed, despite being three years removed from pitching in a game.
He may not have had a perfect inning or struck out the side, but who knows? Maybe this isn’t the last we’ve seen of JonJon Vaughns, two-way player.
Ethan Champlin’s kick save brings forth Bruins’ MPSF title
Amelie Ionescu, assistant Sports editor
He may not have closed out the point.
He may not have even secured the initial dig.
But Ethan Champlin’s heroics did not go unnoticed.
Raising coach John Speraw’s blood pressure yet again this season, the junior outside hitter watched as his libero dove to save a Stanford tip, sprinted alongside sophomore outside hitter/opposite Ido David to keep the ball in play and eventually did a slide of his own, getting his foot in just the right location to allow the Bruins a fighting chance.
And if that wasn’t enough, a dime of a dig followed to save the next Stanford attack, with Champlin passing the ball perfectly in system.
A kill from David might have brought UCLA one point closer to the MPSF title, but it was Champlin who afforded him the opportunity.
Down 15-13 in the final set of the conference championship matchup, the Bruins sought a sweep en route to their first MPSF crown in the Speraw era. Nevertheless, a three-point deficit could have brought forth a fourth set. And against the team that knocked UCLA out of contention in 2022, Champlin decided he wasn’t going to see the same five-set fate again, bringing the Bruins within a point of the Cardinal.
Just 12 points later, it was the First-Team All-American’s time to shine defensively once more, as he covered the net on a quick dive to keep the ball afloat and knot the score at 21 apiece.
Champlin was on another level defensively throughout the match. And he didn’t even have to jump into the stands this time.