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Graduate students join the game at UCLA men’s soccer

Midfielder Sean Karani advances the ball for UCLA men’s soccer. Karani is one of five graduate student transfers on this year’s team.(Jack Stenzel/Daily Bruin staff)

By Felicia Keller

Sept. 1, 2023 6:59 p.m.

This post was updated Sep. 2 at 11:19 a.m.

The Bruins had their first in 2021, and then their second in 2022.

Now in 2023, they have their third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.

Student-athletes have been afforded an extra year of eligibility as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them the opportunity to play an extra year while also pursuing an additional degree.

UCLA men’s soccer has taken advantage of the transfer portal to bring in five graduate students this season, something that has become more common across the country with the additional year of eligibility.

This move marks the first time the Bruins have had multiple graduate student players, let alone five. Four have already played a large portion of minutes available as the season kicked off, with defender Owen Schwartz, midfielders Ryan Becher and Sean Karani and forward Jack Sarkos all featuring in the starting lineup.

With a smaller senior class than preferred, containing just four official seniors and three redshirt juniors, coach Ryan Jorden said the team was looking to bring in players to boost upperclassmen numbers.

“As we looked at our classes, and knew where we had players,” Jordan said. “We had a senior class that we knew could benefit from being slightly larger, and getting players that fit particular positions specifically.”

The graduate students have already made an impact in the Bruins’ first two matchups: Karani leads the team with five shots, Becher and Sarkos both picked up goals in the first game of the year and Schwartz has played every minute.

These graduate students have the unique perspective of playing four years of collegiate soccer, albeit in different programs and conferences. Two of the graduate students previously played together at Lehigh, while the other three transferred from Temple, UMBC and Brown.

Redshirt junior midfielder Tucker Lepley said his new teammates’ experiences in conferences outside of the Pac-12 is incredibly valuable to the team. He added that as captain it’s important to him that the players understand that value.

“The first thing I let them know, even though I’m the captain of this team, is ‘you guys are grad students,'” Lepley said. “You’ve been through college soccer, you’ve played your years, your voice here is important, your opinion matters.”

With four graduate students taking starting roles, more time has been left for the freshmen to adjust to collegiate soccer than usual. This season marked the first time the day one starting lineup has been without freshmen since 2011.

As those freshmen and graduate students get acclimated, sophomore defender JC Cortez said the balance between adding veterans and rookies has gone well, with the wisdom from the older players and the energy from the younger members combining.

“The young guys also teach the older guys that there’s an energetic new generation coming through and that there’s a whole new feel to it,” Cortez said. “There’s more energy. I think that the old guys being here for a little bit, they kind of lose some of that, but the new guys are bringing it back.”

The players arrived in Westwood a few weeks before preseason to get to know their teammates. Becher said his new teammates made him feel at home right away, with him even staying at senior defender Tommy Silva’s house for a few days.

Lepley said it’s been easy adding the five graduate students into the group.

“I love these new guys already,” Lepley said. “It’s been a breeze getting them into the squad.”

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Felicia Keller
Keller is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men’s soccer, swim and dive, women’s water polo, and softball beats. She was previously a contributor on the swim and dive and women’s water polo beats and a contributor in the News and Photo sections. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Keller is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men’s soccer, swim and dive, women’s water polo, and softball beats. She was previously a contributor on the swim and dive and women’s water polo beats and a contributor in the News and Photo sections. She is also a second-year sociology student.
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