UC Irvine cuts No. 1 seed UCLA women’s soccer’s NCAA run short with late-game shot
Members of UCLA women’s soccer console each other at the end of the game. The 1-0 loss to UC Irvine eliminated the squad from the first round of the NCAA tournament. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
|No. 1 seed UCLA
Nov. 10, 2023 10:19 p.m.
History haunted the field of Wallis Annenberg Stadium on Friday night.
Two years ago, the Bruins entered the NCAA tournament with high expectations.
Coming off their first back-to-back Pac-12 title since 2014, then-UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell likened the squad to her 2014 team – which had been undefeated before a loss in the Elite Eight – and she had thought the Bruins could go far.
However, a 1-0 heartbreaking defeat to UC Irvine in the first round shut down UCLA’s postseason prospects.
The Bruins came back with a vengeance in 2022 to win the national championship under coach Margueritte Aozasa’s new leadership. But the 2023 selection show announced No. 1 seed UCLA would once again host UC Irvine in the opening round – and from there, history threatened to repeat itself.
The Bruins maintained more than 15 players from 2021 to 2023, and Aozasa said that perhaps that collective memory from two seasons ago is what sealed UCLA’s fate Friday night.
Because the crowd at Wallis Annenberg Stadium watched with deja vu as No. 1 seed UCLA women’s soccer (16-2-1, 10-0-1 Pac-12) fell to UC Irvine (9-7-6, 3-3-4 Big West) in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years. Despite outshooting the Anteaters 22-2, the Bruins’ season ended in a 1-0 defeat behind a free kick conversion with less than five minutes remaining.
Aozasa said that even outshooting an opponent as they did, soccer isn’t always going to go your way.
“But what I told them is, ‘It’s why we love it too because we’ve all been on the other side,’” Aozasa said. “You could argue that last year, we may have been on the other side, so obviously, would I choose to do it this way? No. But we go on.”
The Bruins dominated possession throughout the first half, taking shot after shot without a successful conversion.
Junior forward Lexi Wright took four of the Bruins’ 10 shots in the first period, including one she sent banging against the goalpost.
But the scoreboard ticked past halftime and kept moving without the score budging.
A second yellow card to Irvine midfielder Chloe Ragon with 15 minutes remaining in the match put the Anteaters a player down, and the intensity in Westwood grew even stronger.
Irvine coach Scott Juniper said the Anteaters had been preparing for the pressure they would face against the Bruins.
“We knew we’d have chances,” Juniper said. “We’ve got a team that’s built to create chances in different ways. One of those is through set pieces.”
And after taking just one shot previously, Irvine earned a free kick in the 87th minute and had its chance.
But unlike the chances the Bruins had created, the Anteaters capitalized, sneaking in a header past sophomore goalkeeper Neeku Purcell to put Irvine up 1-0.
As the minutes and eventually the seconds ticked down, UCLA put up another three shots but was unable to reach the back of the net, ending the 2023 season early.
The conclusion of the season also marks the end of several Bruins’ time donning blue and gold.
Aozasa said that even though many players will be saying goodbye to Westwood and collegiate soccer, she knows they won’t stop playing because they love the game.
The second-year head coach said she’s proud of how they’ve shaped the program.
“Of course I’m upset because this is the last time this group gets to play together,” Aozasa said. “But I’m also so proud that what they’ve done – it’s going to allow us to coach future players in totally different ways. So it’s hard, but I’m just very thankful to have coached them.”
Sophomore midfielder Sofia Cook also said she’s going to miss the players graduating from the program but knows they will succeed wherever they end up next.
Cook added that what she loves most about the Bruins are the relationships and positivity among the team.
“We play with joy – that’s what I love the most about us,” Cook said. “I’m just super proud of us, and we just walk away – smile on your face, heads up.”