2023-2024 UCLA sports season previews
(Kimi Jung/Daily Bruin staff)
This post was updated Oct. 2 at 3:48 p.m.
A brand new year of UCLA Athletics is on the horizon, and with it comes more chances to etch new records. Ahead of the opening games, the Daily Bruin Sports staff breaks down the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team, as well as one storyline to watch throughout each season.
Benjamin Royer, assistant Sports editor
Best case: A return to the NCAA College World Series
Coach John Savage is entering his 20th season in charge of UCLA baseball, and the potential for the Bruins to place 2023 aside and thrive in the year ahead is there. But it will need big steps up from its young talent. Rising sophomore right-handers Michael Barnett, Cody Delvecchio and Finn McIlroy have chances to emerge as weekend starters, while incoming freshman right-handers Cal Randall and Justin Lee have serious cases to make an immediate impact. Even the 2023 MLB Draft went in the Bruins’ favor, with incoming freshman infielders Roch Cholowsky and Roman Martin coming to Westwood instead of the pros. Savage and the Bruins have the talent and potential on paper to make it back to Omaha for the first time since 2013.
Worst case: Bottom-third finish in the final Pac-12 campaign
For all the positives that could lead the Bruins back to the top of West Coast baseball, last season provided a stark reminder of how injuries – and lack of depth – can derail a season. Savage lost four starting pitchers to professional baseball as well as left-handers Gage Jump and Ben Jacobs – both possible weekend starters – to the transfer portal, and it remains to be seen where innings will land in 2024. A reliance on freshman pitchers could work out for the Bruins, but experience is needed. If UCLA falls into the back half of the Pac-12 for a second straight year, it will be due to a lack of arms to go with the Bruins’ dynamic bats.
Storyline to watch: The Bruins’ middle infield
Rising junior infielders Cody Schrier and Duce Gourson should slot in the middle infield for the third consecutive season. The Bruins’ duo will both be sleeper picks for the Golden Spikes Award – which honors the top player in college baseball – as well as likely preseason All-Americans. The Bruins’ combo bodes well and could help lead them back to a Pac-12 crown. Schrier ended 2023 with an injury – a trend UCLA must buck – while Gourson competed for the USA Collegiate National Team in the summer. If both Bruins can remain healthy and continue to improve, success could be on the horizon in Westwood.
Joseph Crosby, Sports editor
Best case: Sweet 16 appearance
Reaching the Sweet 16 has felt like the floor for UCLA men’s basketball the past two seasons. With elite players sticking around and the addition of impact freshmen from year to year, a deep run at the NCAA Tournament has been the expectation. But now, the story is different. Coach Mick Cronin is heading into the 2023-2024 season with more unfamiliar faces than familiar ones. The team can best be described as talented but raw, but with a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year ready to shepherd the new members, success is well within reach. However, the chances of that success translating into legitimate title hopes remain to be seen.
Worst case: Mid-tier Pac-12
Repeating as Pac-12 regular-season champions and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament are all but impossibilities for this iteration of the Bruins. But just because they won’t reach those lofty heights of last season doesn’t imply an unfavorable year. Reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Adem Bona is back, and the influx of young talent should prove enough to keep UCLA in the top half of the conference. But if all those pieces struggle to coalesce, the Bruins could find themselves floundering in the middle of the Pac-12.
Storyline to watch: A brand new rotation
Cronin’s starting five in recent years has been a relatively straightforward recipe. A sprinkle of Jaime Jaquez Jr., a dash of Tyger Campbell, a pinch of Jaylen Clark or Johnny Juzang, and all of a sudden he’s 60% of the way toward a strong core. Now, that recipe demands significant adjustment. Bona is the lone returning starter from last season, and Cronin will be tasked with incorporating sophomore guards Dylan Andrews and Will McClendon, as well as a septet of freshmen and transfer guard Lazar Stefanovic. Young players will be forced into meaningful minutes, and how Cronin mixes them all together is sure to be the biggest question of the season.
Lauryn Wang, Daily Bruin senior staff
Best case: Final Four
Charisma Osborne put on a show in her final outing in Pauley Pavilion – except it wasn’t her last performance at home. Even the then-senior expected it to be goodbye, but a change of plans in late March meant the senior would stay for a fifth year. With Osborne’s return, the Bruins now boast their deepest and most consistent lineup in recent memory, priming the program for significant expectations in coach Cori Close’s 12th season at the helm. In total, the Bruins return 88.5% of their scoring production from last year alongside the invaluable leadership of Osborne and fifth-year guard Camryn Brown in tandem. UCLA now has nearly every tool in its possession to vie for its first March Madness Final Four in program history.
Worst case: Loss in the Sweet 16
Taking a look at where the Bruins are this summer is a testament to UCLA’s commitment to strike come the fall season. As sophomore guards Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones demonstrated in their U19 World Cup Gold campaign, their skills continue to level up. Both redshirt junior forward Emily Bessoir and sophomore forward Lina Sontag competed for their national team in Germany, rounding out another pair of Bruins overseas this offseason. It may appear audacious, but what was an impressive outcome last season has completely turned on its head.
Storyline to watch: Impact of Stanford transfer Lauren Betts
The addition of sophomore center Lauren Betts from the transfer portal – in conjunction with Osborne’s return – catapults UCLA into Pac-12 title contention. The duo developed immeasurable chemistry while competing for Team USA in the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup this summer and will translate that experience in summer training to further prepare for the season. Standing at 6-foot-7, Betts is Close’s tallest recruit ever and the first true center to play for UCLA since 2015. The Stanford transfer will likely make an immediate impact for the Bruins as she helps them spread the floor and allow players like Bessoir to hone their vital perimeter game.
Rahaf Abumansour, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: National championship
If this squad can do anything, it is rally. They have the skill and grit to win a national championship. UCLA missed its shot last season when it lost in heartbreaking fashion to USC. The squad, however, can utilize last year’s failure as inspiration. The return of seasoned veterans such as rising graduate students Devon Newberry, Lexy Denaburg and Jaden Whitmarsh, alongside firecrackers such as rising sophomore Maggie Boyd and rising senior Peri Brennan, can finally bring the national championship trophy back to UCLA.
Worst case: Early exit in the NCAAs
If there is a scenario that the Bruins don’t want, it’s an early exit from the championships. It is no secret that the Bruins can reach the championships – it’s about fighting to stay until that final match. USC has managed to lift the NCAA trophy the last three seasons, leaving the Bruins hungry for the title. The next season is less certain because of former coach Stein Metzger’s departure, meaning the Bruins must adjust. Metzger’s talent and strategic insight were key to the team’s earlier accomplishments. The squad may struggle to adjust, resulting in an early exit from the tournament. This will leave them titleless four seasons in a row, which is a scenario that no athlete or Bruin fan wants.
Storyline to watch: Maggie Boyd
Boyd’s adventure started last season when she was mostly paired with rising graduate student Lexy Denaburg, displaying her extraordinary abilities on the beach volleyball court. Her record of 27-6 demonstrated her dependable and strong play. Boyd’s accomplishments kept piling up, winning her the coveted Pac-12 Freshman of the Year title. This demonstrates her enormous potential as a young phenom in the league. The narrative of Maggie Boyd’s journey is one every fan will want to follow as the Bruins hunt for another title.
Cecilia Schmitz, assistant Sports editor
Best case: Top-10 finish in NCAA West Regional
UCLA cross country has talent and potential. Both the men’s and women’s squads can secure a top-10 finish in the NCAA West Regional. The men’s team finished 10th last season, whereas the women’s team finished close behind in 13th place. The squad also posted personal bests in the Pac-12 championships, indicating more growth and development. Redshirt senior Peter Herold broke his personal record with 23:15.08, while junior Anna Weirich beat her best time with 20:45.4. With younger athletes on the squad, another offseason could bring the experience needed to improve, giving the Bruins the push necessary to land squarely in the top 10.
Worst case: Not clearing the top 10 in the Pac-12 championships
UCLA faces stiff competition in the Pac-12. Among the men’s team’s rivals are No. 4 Stanford, No. 14 Washington and No. 16 Oregon. In the last rankings of the 2022 men’s season, UCLA didn’t even clear the list. On the women’s side, UCLA is contending against No. 8 Stanford and No. 10 Oregon. Again, the Bruins were unranked. These are just some of the teams UCLA faces in the Pac-12, not including the rest of the field. Although the men’s team cleared the top 10 in the invitational last year, it’s possible they won’t outperform the higher-ranked teams they’re up against.
Storyline to watch: Potential breakout star for the women’s squad
In most meets last season, the women’s squad’s best runner was Emma Tavella, who has now graduated and will run for Boston College. There are several potential athletes poised to take over the best times for the women’s team. Last season, Tavella led the women in both the NCAA West Regionals and the Pac-12 championships. Behind her were Weirich in the Pac-12 and junior Angelina Shandro and sophomore Kaho Cichon in the NCAA West Regionals. Without a clear contender to overtake Tavella, coach Avery Anderson will have to wait to see if anyone takes her place, or if there are a number of athletes who could become breakout stars.
Grace Whitaker, Daily Bruin senior staff
Best case: Bowl game victory
UCLA football had high expectations going into the 2022 campaign. And within the context of its recent history, its nine wins and bowl game appearance lived up to most of those expectations. But this season is different. The Bruins are losing nearly all of their star power with the trio of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, running back Zach Charbonnet and wide receiver Jake Bobo going to the NFL. Despite bringing in five-star recruit freshman quarterback Dante Moore, UCLA is left to put together new pieces to replicate a once above-average team. This scramble will likely leave it with a similar outcome as last season, and a best-case scenario will result in nine wins and maybe even a victory in a bowl game.
Worst case: Five wins
With the preseason conversation focused on emerging stars, the number of games the Bruins will win is entirely up in the air. UCLA is in the business of rebuilding, likely on the back of a freshman quarterback who will be tasked with leading an inexperienced squad through its last season in the Pac-12. In addition, he’ll be expected to do so with an offense that lost its two biggest end zone weapons. This uncertainty could leave UCLA in a tough spot – one where it could end up just below the six wins necessary to secure a spot in a bowl game, thereby ending its final campaign before joining the Big Ten in disaster.
Storyline to watch: Quarterback race
All eyes will be on the initial snap come Sept. 2. Will redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers get his time in the sun after three years in Thompson-Robinson’s shadow? Or will coach Chip Kelly take a chance on the rookie with Moore? With Garbers, Kelly would find dependability, as the quarterback has been under his wing for three seasons. But the allure that Moore brings is potentially just what UCLA needs. At that, Kelly could shock fans and pick Kent State transfer redshirt senior Collin Schlee, who boasts more collegiate game experience than the latter two combined. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if, come September, it’s a freshman taking to the field.
Alexis Hinkle, assistant Sports editor
Best case: Mid-tier Pac-12
For the second time in 24 years, UCLA men’s golf has found itself at the cellar. Despite the team improving throughout the season, its postseason run at the 2023 Pac-12 championships pushed it back down to where it found itself in 2021: last place. But the Bruins have proven they can change their narrative. After falling to 12th place two years ago, they climbed their way back up to the middle of the pack behind rising junior Pablo Ereño, who earned 2021-2022 Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors. With the addition of three incoming freshmen and the return of experienced veterans, there’s no doubt the Bruins can flip the script and do it again.
Worst case: Low-tier Pac-12
With two coaching changes in two years, the Bruins could find themselves at the bottom of the pack for the second year in a row. After the departure of former coach Derek Freeman – who led UCLA men’s golf for 15 years – the team faced challenges in achieving success under the guidance of the new coach, Armen Kirakossian. Kirakossian’s nine years of coaching experience is fit for UCLA, but with success comes time. And with another coach in the mix – the addition of assistant coach Mason Banger – the team may face another year of transformation. It’ll be up to the Bruins to prevent another 12th-place finish.
Storyline to watch: New coaching staff
The impact of coaching is one of the most crucial aspects to the dynamic of a team. Now that Kirakossian has his first season under his belt, anticipation builds around the changes he will make in the new season. Alongside seven returning players and his wealth of knowledge, Kirakossian will need to find ways to lead the team to a new result this upcoming season. Banger – who was named assistant coach in early July – previously coached at Abilene Christian, where he helped the team to a Western Athletic Conference Championship in just their first year as a Division I program. His ability to transform teams will be crucial to UCLA’s success in the upcoming season.
Sabrina Baker, Daily Bruin reporter
Best case: NCAA finals appearance
After a heartbreaking end to the 2022-2023 season, UCLA women’s golf can redeem itself with an appearance in the 2024 NCAA finals. With Alicia Um Holmes stepping up to the head coach position, the Bruins have a chance to demonstrate their strength. UCLA is tied for third in the number of NCAA women’s golf titles, with three overall. The most recent was in 2011. Although a title win this season is not expected, they have a chance to advance to the finals. With five new players joining the team and three strong returning players, the Bruins can rewrite last season’s narrative with an NCAA finals appearance.
Worst case: Season ending at regionals, again
Last year, the Bruins’ season came to an end after placing eighth at the NCAA regionals. The last time UCLA failed to advance past regionals was in 2017, and the last time it faced a back-to-back season finish at regionals was in 1999. The Bruins usually advance past regionals, so back-to-back seasons ending with not qualifying would be disappointing. With more new players than those returning, this season could be a rebuilding year for the Bruins. But, all but one of the players on this season’s roster have collegiate experience, indicating success. Yet there is still a chance that they will repeat history with an early NCAA exit.
Storyline to watch: Zoe Antoinette Campos
Rising junior Zoe Antoinette Campos caught on fire toward the end of last season. She ended the year placing second individually at regionals and with two first-place finishes for the season. She was key in the Bruins’ lineup, often finishing as one of the top, if not the top, scorers for the Bruins. Outside of UCLA, she has competed in two LPGA major championships – the Chevron Championship and the 78th Women’s Open Championship. With a roster filled with new players, Campos can be a leader and embody UCLA golf.
Genevieve Trimbell, Daily Bruin reporter
Best case: Four on the Floor appearance
Besides the absence of Olympic hopeful Jordan Chiles, UCLA gymnastics is keeping nearly all of its key gymnasts for the 2024 season as the Bruins hope for a return to full strength. UCLA should have previously injured gymnasts such as rising sophomore Ciena Alipio, rising juniors Brooklyn Moors and Emma Malabuyo, and rising senior Frida Esparza healthy for the season ahead. With the new coaching staff having had a year to settle in, breakout star rising sophomore Selena Harris entering her second year of competition and the No. 1 recruiting class of 2022 settling in as upperclassmen, the Bruins may come to the competition floor with an increased confidence that could carry them to a top-four finish – a place they haven’t been since 2019.
Worst case: First-round regionals exit
Though one gymnast can’t make or break an NCAA team, the Bruins will sorely miss Chiles’ presence as a nine-time All-American and as the reigning No. 2 all-around gymnast in the country. Returns from injured gymnasts promise hope for the Bruins, but they may struggle to find the peak performance in time to achieve their goals. UCLA showed high potential last season but often failed to put all the pieces together in critical situations, resulting in an early exit from nationals. Though it’s hard to imagine UCLA regressing enough to miss the postseason entirely, a shaky season and an off day could send the Bruins home early.
Storyline to watch: Will vault woes continue?
UCLA finished No. 11 on vault in 2023 – the only event on which it did not crack the top five in the rankings. The Bruins’ poor performances on vault with a lineup that often featured just two consistent 10.0 start values arguably kept them from both a Pac-12 title and a top-four finish at nationals. But with Moors and Malabuyo expected to return from injuries, incoming freshman Katelyn Rosen’s Yurchenko 1.5, and an offseason to train upgrades, the Bruins have many opportunities to complete their otherwise dominant slate.
Lamar Tuker, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: Top-10 finish
A hunger for redemption will shepherd the way for UCLA rowing, as it landed last place in the 2023 Pac-12 championships. However, demonstrating significant improvement in each regatta, coach Previn Chandraratna’s squad was constantly reforming its technique. Successful implementation of the team’s learnings could ensure an at-large selection into the NCAA championships, breaking the dry spell with its first appearance in the tournament in 10 years. Familiarity with their Pac-12 competitors and steady timing improvements throughout the season could grant the Bruins a top-10 finish.
Worst case: Last place in the Pac-12, a repeat of last season
The last thing the Bruins need is a rewrite of last season. Despite victories in the Big Ten Invitational and a few defeats of their crosstown rivals at the Dexter Lake Invitational, the squad docked at last place in the Pac-12 championships. A continued lack of cohesion could put another subpar year on their horizon, extending a 10-year drought of competing in the NCAAs. And with over half of the varsity eight crew waving goodbye to Westwood, Chandraratna has big decisions to make, and the Bruins have big roles to fill.
Storyline to watch: New novice crew lineup
Last season’s novice eight boat stirred some big waves, leaving the new lineup with crucial shoes to fill. The previous crew was a formidable force as they secured a third-place finish in the San Diego Crew Classic and landed fourth in the Pac-12 championships. With seasoned freshmen entering their second season with the program, the new novice crew lineup will strive to maintain the boat’s established status. The previous crew set a precedent early in the season, so expectations run high for the new lineup to follow suit. The pressure is on, but the novice eight have proven to be quick learners.
Felicia Keller, assistant Sports editor
Best case: Loss in the Elite Eight
UCLA men’s soccer started out last season incredibly strong, with two wins out of the gate earning it the No. 4 spot in the country on Aug. 30. However, the rest of the season saw the Bruins slowly drop down the rankings, eventually plummeting to an unranked status, where they finished the season. However, a deep run into the NCAA tournament to reach the Sweet 16 had them punching above their ranking’s proverbial weight, proving that they were capable of more than their regular-season performances. Despite some roster losses, added experience for those already on the team alongside freshmen and key transfers could push this team an extra round come postseason.
Worst case: Out in first round of NCAA tournament
Unfortunately, there is always a chance that the additions will be unable to fill the holes created this offseason. With twin juniors starting goalkeeper Nate Crockford and midfielder Charlie Crockford transferring to Wisconsin midyear, and multiple players graduating who saw playing time in more than 75% of the Bruin’s matches, particularly in midfield, the Bruins could struggle to replace key playmakers. This team should still manage an entry in the NCAA tournament, however, with the No. 2-ranked incoming class in the nation, but their young additions may struggle upon arrival.
Storyline to watch: Incoming forward grad transfers
There was one clear distinction between the top two teams in the Pac-12 last season and the other four. Washington and Stanford finished the season with 48 and 46 goals, respectively. UCLA only managed 26. The Bruins have announced three graduate student transfers. All three are attack-minded players coming in with experience scoring goals for their undergraduate teams. The most impressive of the three, in terms of goals count, is midfielder Ryan Becher. He joins the team from UMBC, where he collected 13 goals in the 2022 season. While competing in the Pac-12 may be a different level, both Becher and Lehigh transfer forward Jack Sarkos – who picked up eight goals on the season – should be key veteran contributors for the Bruins this season, alongside Temple transfer midfielder Sean Karani.
Grace Whitaker, Daily Bruin senior staff
Best case: Back-to-back national champions
Last season, UCLA women’s soccer shook up the country. After a 2021 season ending with a shocking first-round defeat, the Bruins won it all in 2022. And despite the loss of graduate student goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy and graduate student defender Madelyn Desiano, the Bruins will be returning nearly their entire championship roster. As long as UCLA can scour its squad for someone with fortitude in front of the goal similar to Brzykcy, the Bruins’ hunt for a trophy may prove that coach Margueritte Aozasa’s successful rookie campaign was more than just beginner’s luck.
Worst case: Early NCAA tournament loss
UCLA is unquestionably the best team in the nation. And the tough part about that is that the only thing to do next is attempt to stay the best. As all eyes will be on it this season, the question will be, “Can it win another championship?” That recognition can produce great drive but at the same time immense pressure. It’s what caused the Bruins’ elimination two seasons ago in the first round of the NCAA tournament by an unranked team. History could repeat itself if UCLA allows itself to rest on its laurels. If it wants any chance at replicating last season’s success, it must let neither the pressure nor the recognition distract it.
Storyline to watch: Goalkeeper decision
On the offensive front, UCLA poses a significant threat to any team they face. Between senior forward Reilyn Turner and graduate student midfielder/forward Sunshine Fontes’ expertise and power, the Bruins will not have any problems finding the back of the net. But in regard to the defensive side of the field, there will be a notable switch-up. The Bruins boast a star back line but once a ball passes their line of defense, the unstoppable Brzykcy will no longer be there to make the save. Instead, no one yet knows who will replace the star. Will it be sophomore goalkeeper Neeku Purcell? Or will Aozasa call up senior Kelly McManus or junior Faith Nguyen? Only time and the opening contest on Aug. 12 will tell.
Matthew Royer, Daily Bruin senior staff
Best case: Women’s College World Series semifinal
It is time to address the elephant in the room – UCLA softball’s end to the 2023 season was likely a fluke. Year after year, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez has put together a top-tier roster to compete for a national championship. This year is no different, as anything but a trip to the Women’s College World Series will be out of character for the 12-time national champions. With rising redshirt senior utility Maya Brady leading the UCLA offense alongside rising sophomores utility Megan Grant and infielder Jordan Woolery, the Bruins will have no problem slugging their way through the conference and the rest of the NCAA.
Worst case: Loss in the NCAA Super Regionals
Every year the Bruins aim to compete for a national championship, but just as the NCAA Los Angeles Regional in May proved, anything can happen in the postseason. UCLA struggled down the stretch in 2023 between its NCAA tournament losses and dropping the Pac-12 crown to Utah. While the Bruins should easily make their way to the WCWS, it is certainly not out of the question that a depleted pitching staff will tighten the competition, leaving Inouye-Perez with a potential second straight season of postseason heartbreak heading into the Big 10.
Storyline to watch: Post-Faraimo pitching staff
Megan Faraimo – reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year – is no longer a Bruin. In fact, with Brooke Yanez and Lauren Shaw also leaving the team, UCLA will be down 85% of its pitching production from last season, with only rising sophomore Taylor Tinsley returning for the Bruins. However, this winter, one of the nation’s top recruits will arrive in Westwood in the form of incoming freshman pitcher/infielder Kaitlyn Terry – the 2022-23 Gatorade Arizona Softball Player of the Year. Terry – albeit in high school – compiled a 0.21 earned run average striking out 406 batters in 169.1 innings. Alongside Tinsley and incoming transfer rising junior pitcher Jada Cecil – who held a 1.97 ERA against NCAA competition last season – the triad will set in stone a new era for UCLA pitching as the Bruins take the field heading into 2024.
Swim and dive
Sabrina Baker, Daily Bruin reporter
Best case: Beating Stanford and Cal at Pac-12 championship meet
UCLA swim and dive has consistently placed in the top half of the Pac-12 under coach Jordan Wolfrum. Wolfrum, however, has yet to lead her athletes to win the conference. There are two teams that consistently take home the Pac-12 championship: California and Stanford. Since 2008, there has been only one year when a team other than Cal or Stanford has won. UCLA holds a 3-38 record in regular-season meets against Stanford and a 9-32 record against Cal. Yet, the regular-season meets do not determine the Pac-12 champion. It all comes down to the Pac-12 championship meet, and the Golden Bears and the Cardinal are the teams to beat. With incoming talent and continued strength, the Bruins have a solid shot at dethroning the reigning Pac-12 champions.
Worst case: Falling short of their previous relay dominance
In the 2022-2023 season, the Bruins were dominant in relays, specifically freestyle relays. In the crosstown-rivalry meet, UCLA broke a school record from 2017 en route to winning the 400-meter freestyle relay. Then, at the NCAA championships, the Bruins set a season-best time by nearly three seconds in the 800-meter freestyle relay. Yet both of these relay teams had swimmers who have graduated. Will they be able to continue this relay dominance into the 2023-2024 season with some key components of the teams graduating? The silver lining is that the 800-meter freestyle relay was composed of two now-rising sophomores, and the 400-meter freestyle relay had a now-rising senior.
Storyline to watch: Shooting for Olympic Trial qualifications
There is less than a year left to obtain a qualifying time for the 2024 Olympic Swimming Trials. For swimmers, this is the chance to qualify for individual events and earn a spot on the relays to represent the United States. Two Bruin swimmers have already earned a qualification: incoming freshman swimmer Sarah Bennetts in the 100-meter breaststroke and rising junior swimmer Paige MacEachern in the 200-meter individual medley. This list should continue to grow as the season progresses, both with Bennetts and MacEachern’s individual qualifications and from the team as a whole.
Jeremy Chen, Daily Bruin senior staff
Best case: Top three in the Pac-12
There won’t be any lack of talent in Westwood. The Bruins boast a roster that includes rising junior Alexander Hoogmartens, who had ascended to No. 15 in the country in singles before sustaining an injury, and rising sophomores Gianluca Ballotta, Azuma Visaya and Aadarsh Tripathi, the latter two being former blue-chip recruits. On top of this, new Bruin faces include a rare transfer in Jorge Plans Gonzalez, who tallied a 50-28 record in his three years at Clemson, and blue-chip recruit Rudy Quan, who verbally committed to UCLA in May. But talent alone can only get the team so far, as seen with last season’s young, inexperienced team. If coach Billy Martin can develop his returning players and successfully integrate the new ones, UCLA can break out of the bottom of the Pac-12 and into the upper echelon.
Worst case: Another middling season with first-round exits in Pac-12s, NCAAs
On the other side of the same coin, the young Bruins still might not be ready. While Plans Gonzalez will inject valuable experience into the lineup, and Hoogmartens and rising junior Giacomo Revelli will presumably fill the leadership void left by Patrick Zahraj , half of UCLA’s singles rotation could still consist of underclassmen – a repeat of last season. Once again, the team’s lack of experience could prove costly in down-to-the-wire matches and against more battle-tested veterans. If the Bruins don’t come in with marked improvements, frustrating first-round exits will continue to haunt them.
Storyline to watch: Hoogmartens, rising sophomores take it to the next level
Despite a white-hot start to the season, Hoogmartens played only five singles matches in his 2023 campaign because of an undisclosed right leg injury. He was undefeated in singles, contributing to the Bruins’ 4-1 start to the season. Despite UCLA finishing just one game above .500, the season was not a complete wash. In Hoogmartens’ absence, Ballotta, Visaya and Tripathi had more opportunity to grow and showed promising flashes. If Hoogmartens returns healthy and the Bruins see similar leaps from their sophomore trio, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Jack Nelson, Daily Bruin senior staff
Best case: NCAA quarterfinalists
With all the right pieces back in the fold, the deep postseason run that surprised a season ago is now the expectation. The projected top-court trio of rising sophomore Fangran Tian and rising juniors Kimmi Hance and Elise Wagle were the three winningest Bruins in dual singles last season. On the doubles side, No. 12 duo Hance and Wagle will likely be supplemented by Tian alongside rising sophomore Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer – they’ve already proven formidable with a 10-2 record in 2023. Pac-12 glory will likely exceed UCLA’s grasp with Stanford well-positioned to dominate again, but following a Sweet 16 finish, the Bruins have what they need to take the next step.
Worst case: NCAA first-round exit
A rough start to 2023 eventually forced UCLA to play underdog on the national stage. If Wagle and Lutkemeyer fail to improve, the Bruins will likely stay right where they are – talented enough to reach the postseason but lacking the consistency necessary to be a serious contender. Tian and Hance are primed for strong campaigns after a combined 28-10 singles effort last season, but they’ll need backup to spearhead a winning effort. And with just six players projected for the 2024 roster – the smallest since at least 2010 – there’s no margin for injury or poor performance. An early exit may loom if the lower courts can’t hold their own.
Storyline to watch: Fangran Tian’s title defense
The Bruins will live or die by the champ’s racket. Tian – the reigning NCAA singles champion and ITA National Rookie of the Year – went 15-0 in regular-season dual singles en route to the greatest freshman season in program history. This is unquestionably Tian’s team, and she’s now tasked with topping her laundry list of accolades in 2024. In addition to her reliability, the nation’s No. 8 player will be a crucial asset under pressure thanks to the experience against high-caliber competition that she now possesses. Not only will her play dictate the flux of wins and losses for UCLA, but it may determine whether she even suits up for college tennis in 2025.
Track and field
Rahaf Abumansour, Daily Bruin contributor
Best case: Top-five finish
Avery Anderson’s coaching style will be the reason that UCLA track and field makes it to a top-five finish. The squad has showcased repeatedly under Anderson that it has what it takes to make it. When the Bruins competed at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships, they placed third – with the fastest finish in UCLA history – and qualified for the first time since 2005. The Bruins climbed up the ranks with many top-10 finishes in the 2022-2023 season. As the athletes continue to succeed alongside their coaching staff’s expertise, these top-10 finishes will persist.
Worst case: Mid-tier Pac-12
With talented seniors leaving the team, it’s up to the remaining Bruins to fill in that gap. The senior class of the squad left their mark as they garnered many top-10 finishes and achieved new PR marks. The men’s 4×400 relay team of then-seniors Myles Misener-Daley, Ismail Turner and then-graduate student Willington Wright placed third with a school record-breaking time of 2:59.82 in the NCAA championships. These sprinters have achieved titles, and the new class will have to keep up. On the women’s side, then-graduate student javelin thrower Federica Botter also left a mark, setting the new record of 53.20 m in March. Now, it’s up to the younger class to keep up or fall to the lack of veteran experience.
Storyline to watch: Michael Pinckney
From the moment that rising sophomore Michael Pinckney stepped out in his first meet with the UCLA squad, it was settled that the then-freshman was bound to leave a mark. In just his first year, Pinckney dominated both the indoor and the outdoor seasons. In the weight throw, all five marks were among the top 10 indoor records of all time. He finished seventh in the Pac-12 conference and set the new UCLA shot put record by throwing a 17.60m. He also went on to win the 2023 USATF U20 Outdoor Championships in July. With his skills alongside the training he gets at UCLA, there is no doubt that he will make it to a top-five finish going into the 2023-2024 season.
Anthony Aroyan, Daily Bruin staff
Best case: MPSF and NCAA champions
Retaining the core of 2023’s national championship roster, UCLA men’s volleyball has the tools to repeat last season’s success. With four returning AVCA All-American First Team selections, coach John Speraw’s squad has the talent to remain the top program in the nation. Notably, this includes the middle blocker pairing of rising redshirt junior Guy Genis and rising redshirt senior Merrick McHenry, whose efforts allowed the Bruins to lead the nation in blocks per set. History is also on the Bruins’ side, with the last five NCAA titleholders defending their campaign the following year. With the personnel and coaching at Speraw’s disposal, the sky is once again the limit.
Worst case: Semi-final exits
Despite a near-replica of 2023’s championship lineup, a key departure may prove detrimental to the dream of going back-to-back. Most notably, libero Troy Gooch graduated from the program after playing a pivotal role on the defensive end. Gooch dominated the team in digs, notching 219 over the course of his final season – enough to land him top 10 in the nation. While the Bruins still have a strong enough squad to advance to the postseason, the departure of Gooch presents changes that Speraw and the rest of the squad must address.
Storyline to watch: Andrew Rowan
Andrew Rowan is the linchpin to bring this roster together. The rising sophomore setter made his mark on the program last season, winning both AVCA Newcomer of the Year and MPSF Freshman of the Year. Statistically, Rowan was among the best setters in the nation, ranking third in assists last season and leading the Bruins to the nation’s best hitting percentage at .382. Rowan’s ability to distribute the ball was further refined throughout the season, especially after he assumed starting duties early in his freshman campaign. This, alongside his strong connection with star hitters like rising junior Ido David, may prove the difference in season-defining moments.
Ira Gorawara, assistant Sports editor
Best case: Elite Eight appearance
Gaps created in an underwhelming 2022 season are soon to be plugged. With redshirt senior middle blocker Anna Dodson’s return guaranteed and transfer outside hitter Joy Umeh joining the Bruins, UCLA women’s volleyball will no longer rely on its underclassmen as its primary hitters. Umeh used her final season of eligibility to join the Bruins, after leading UC Irvine in kills and helping the Anteaters turn a 5-23 mark into a noteworthy 20-10 record in her final year. And after training alongside the U.S. Women’s National Team, Dodson is poised to outstrip her 2022 breakout season. Rounding it out, the addition of the country’s No. 4 setter in freshman Ashley Mullen places the pieces in the puzzle for the squad to return to its championship-contending status.
Worst case: NCAA first-round exit
UCLA is, historically, a championship program. But after failing to reach the NCAA tournament in 2022, the Bruins lost ties with the national conversation. And with a complete overhaul of the program’s helm, new faces could ensure UCLA’s storied legacy continues to dwindle. As coach Michael Sealy’s 13-year tenure draws to a close, U.S. Women’s National Team seasonal assistant coach Alfred Reft rises to the squad’s pinnacle. And it isn’t just a change at the top. Reft welcomes three new coaches to the Bruin program, giving the squad its first-ever full-time four-coach leadership. Entirely novel coaching philosophies could extend an NCAA tournament drought that began last season.
Storyline to watch: Desiree Becker
If Reft has shown any early sign of promise as head coach, it’s the addition of transfer graduate student Desiree Becker. The middle blocker lands in Westwood after her best season with Northwestern, leading the squad with 118 blocks and adding 177 kills to help the Wildcats toward their winningest season in over a decade. Becker’s central position on the court will keep the Bruin defense in safe stewardship. Becker will join Dodson, senior outside hitter/opposite Iman Ndiaye and junior middle blocker Francesca Alupei to boast a powerhouse of a front line.
Water polo (men’s)
Ava Abrishamchian, Daily Bruin reporter
Best case: NCAA champions
Despite last year’s semifinals loss, a national championship for UCLA men’s water polo has never been out of reach. The Bruins may have had to bid farewell to players such as Evan Rosenfeld and Jake Cavano, top scorers who received the most accolades out of the squad. However, the Bruins have a youthful roster filled with potential, including redshirt junior Gianpiero Di Martire and junior Chase Dodd, a former Team USA member. With experience and leadership at their disposal, coach Adam Wright will have no problem facing off against familiar West Coast challengers. The season will begin with an early-season game against Stanford at home, a matchup that commonly falls in the Bruins’ favor, and will include a rematch with California; however, with powerhouses ready to perform, the Bruins will be able to bring home their 122nd piece of hardware.
Worst case: Losing momentum
Last year, after a double overtime win against the Trojans, the Bruins headed into the MPSF championship hot on their heels. However, the fire was soon extinguished against USC, the same team they had just beaten. That would soon be followed by back-to-back, season-ending losses that sent the Bruins home empty-handed. UCLA struggled with maintaining momentum against higher-ranked teams throughout last season, falling to Stanford and USC after long-term winning streaks. With a young roster, leadership and momentum are a must to achieve the dream of victory. If the Bruins cannot hold themselves strong and steady against equally competitive teams, they will burn out of the race to the championship.
Storyline to watch: Matchup against California
If the Bruins want to make any bid at a championship, they first have to overcome the back-to-back defending champions: the Golden Bears. UCLA has defeated Cal only four times in the past five seasons. With a midseason matchup, the Bruins have an opportunity to iron out any weaknesses before a faceoff with one of their biggest rivals. If UCLA is able to step up, it will have a good chance of knocking Cal off its podium and bringing glory to Southern California.
Water polo (women’s)
Felicia Keller, assistant Sports editor
Best case: NCAA champions
The key to the Bruins’ first national championship since 2009 will be navigating the teams that have had the Bruins’ number during coach Adam Wright’s tenure. Since Wright took the team’s helm in 2018, UCLA women’s water polo has been eliminated from postseason contention by Stanford three times and USC twice. Only one of these games concluded with the Bruins trailing by fewer than three, with last season’s loss to the Cardinal ending with a 14-9 decision. Securing the eighth national championship in program history will require this team to increase their mental fortitude against USC and Stanford all season, with an emphasis on postseason competition.
Worst case: Loss in semifinal
Across the 2023 season, this Bruin team lost in three different semifinal matches. The NCAA semifinal is where they ended their season, but previously, the Bruins fell in the semifinal of the Barbara Kalbus Invitational in February and the MPSF championship in April. An even greater concern was falling to California in the consolation matches of the latter two tournaments – despite beating Cal 11-6 in their single regular-season matchup. Semifinals proved to be the Bruins’ wound last season, but could it plague them again come 2024?
Storyline to watch: Establishment of sophomore class
UCLA’s lineup last season included seven freshmen who together scored 36% of the team’s total goals – despite holding only 27% of the roster spots. With the departure of high-scoring players, that percentage of goals will only grow this season, as this rising sophomore core becomes more established and gains experience. Led by rising sophomore utilities Anna Pearson and Sienna Green, this young core performing at their peak against ranked opponents will be vital for UCLA’s success.