UCLA women’s soccer finishes strong in its final Pac-12 match, defeats USC
Members of UCLA women’s soccer celebrate together during their last Pac-12 match. (Brandon Morquecho/Assistant Photo editor)
|No. 22 USC
|No. 2 UCLA
Nov. 3, 2023 10:42 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 6 at 12:55 a.m.
With the television industry on hold, Angelenos packed Wallis Annenberg Stadium on Friday expecting a season finale of drama fit for the screen.
Crosstown rivals set to battle it out for the last time under the West Coast conference they’ve called home for decades.
And with the stands packed with red and blue and the marching band’s score inciting fervor among the athletes and fans alike, the Bruins and Trojans put on a show.
After 90 minutes of high-intensity play keeping the scoreboard active, No. 2 UCLA women’s soccer (16-1-1, 10-0-1 Pac-12) came out victorious over No. 22 USC (10-4-3, 6-2-3) in its final game of the regular season. Friday’s 4-2 triumph kept the Bruins undefeated across conference play in their last season in the Pac-12.
As a coach, Margueritte Aozasa grew up in the Pac-12 with her years at Stanford and now UCLA. She said leaving the conference for the Big Ten is bittersweet.
“I was literally 25 years old when I started coaching in this conference,” Aozasa said. “We feel a responsibility to … take the brand that we’ve learned and that we’ve built in the Pac-12 and now bring it across the country.”
Junior forward Lexi Wright opened the scoring of her final Pac-12 matchup in the 18th minute. Rushing to match a soaring pass from junior defender Jayden Perry from midfield, Wright and Trojan goalkeeper Hannah Dickinson met in the goal area, but Wright was just a bit faster – kicking the ball right over the diving keeper.
Wright said the Bruins left the matchup with confidence and trust in one another, knowing they can put up goals when they need to.
“Getting that early goal definitely is always a good confidence booster to just keep going out and keep trying new things and taking risks,” Wright said.
Just over a minute later, the Bruins doubled their lead with a solo goal from graduate student forward Ally Cook.
Fighting USC defenders and tumbling to the ground, Cook pushed herself up and maintained possession. She capitalized off the chaos as more Trojans rushed toward her and the Oregon graduate transfer shot the ball straight past them to the back of the net.
In her time with both the Ducks and Bruins, Cook had yet to defeat the Trojans until Friday night.
She said having a supportive staff that encourages players has made her more confident.
“They’ve been telling us, ‘Hey, we’re good players, and you need to believe in yourself. So in the moment, when it feels good – take it,’” Cook said.
The Trojans refused to let their final Pac-12 matchup be a shutout, however.
Earning a corner kick in the 29th minute, USC took a page from UCLA’s playbook with a header to bring the score to 2-1.
And although the Trojans would send the ball into the goal once more in the first period, it wouldn’t land in their favor. USC’s own goal put UCLA up 3-1.
The Bruins capitalized off the Trojans’ mistakes once again with a penalty kick in the 81st minute taken by sophomore forward Bridgette Marin-Valencia. USC responded with one final goal of their own in the 88th minute, but it wasn’t enough to turn the UCLA tide.
In addition to their undefeated conference record, Aozasa said the Bruins celebrated a lot of little moments after the game.
“It’s been a long road to get us here,” Aozasa said. “We don’t get here without everyone and now we have to come together again – get some rest, get some recovery and get ready for the next part of our season.”
With the regular season concluded, the Bruins await their tournament seeding fate with the NCAA selection show on Monday.
Last year, UCLA earned a No. 1 seed and carried the momentum all the way to an NCAA title.
Cook said Friday’s tough matchup was good experience to prepare for the tournament.
“I think it shows we have a lot of people that can score a lot of different ways,” Cook said. “We’re ready.”