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Reigning champions UCLA women’s soccer to kick off 2023 bid against Irvine

Junior defender Lilly Reale prepares to strike the ball. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Women's Soccer


UC Irvine
Friday, 6 p.m.

Wallis Annenberg Stadium
ESPN+

By Lori Garavartanian

Nov. 9, 2023 4:04 p.m.

The last time collegiate women’s soccer saw back-to-back national champions, Lilly Reale had just turned six.

North Carolina achieved that feat in 2009 and since then, no team has been able to defend its title. UCLA attempted the same feat in 2014, but fell in the quarterfinals.

“This year we’re trying to keep the same mindset,” the junior defender said. “Knowing that if we play our best soccer, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

To start its bid for its third national championship, No. 1 seed UCLA women’s soccer (16-1-1,10-0-1 Pac-12) will be facing a familiar opponent in UC Irvine (8-7-6, 3-3-4 Big West), kicking off the tournament at Wallis Annenberg Stadium. Two years ago, the Anteaters knocked the then-No. 2 seed Bruins out of the NCAA tournament in the first round.

“We try not to think too much about it,” Reale said. “Two years ago was a good reminder to not take any team lightly.”

UCI and UCLA have also already faced this season. The Bruins defeated the Anteaters 4-0 in their matchup, securing a shutout and its second largest goal differential of the season. However, that game was just UCLA’s fifth of the season, and UCI has since gone on to secure the Big West championship.

“That was the beginning of the season. They have different players now, a different style of play,” said graduate student forward Ally Cook. “Yeah, it’s a familiar team, but it could be completely different.”

The Bruins are heading into this tournament as a No. 1 seed and reigning Pac-12 champions. This seeding is not unfamiliar to the team, as it had the No. 1 seed when it won the national championship last year.

In fact, in the last six years, there’s only been one instance of a non-No. 1 seed winning the title.

Coach Margueritte Aozasa said the biggest benefit of the Bruins’ seeding is the ability to host.

“It’s less travel and we have a routine,” Aozasa said. “Having that home field advantage is massive.”

UCLA has not lost a game at home this season, with nine wins and one tie coming at Wallis Annenberg Stadium.

Regardless of their record and seeding, the Bruins will still have to win five games before they even make it to a championship matchup.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a one seed, two seed, three seed. If you want to win the whole thing you have to win six games,” Aozasa said. “We just try to keep it all business.”

 

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