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Battle of the Editors: Which UCLA team is the most anticipated ahead of upcoming seasons?

UCLA softball huddles around coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. (Myka Fromm/Assistant Photo editor)

By Benjamin Royer, Felicia Keller, Cecilia Schmitz, Ira Gorawara, Alexis Hinkle, and Joseph Crosby

Dec. 6, 2023 4:01 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 18 at 12:11 a.m.

Fall quarter is nearly over, and the LA Bowl represents the final game for any of UCLA’s fall sports. As the calendar inches closer to 2024, Daily Bruin Sports’ editors are looking ahead to the teams that will be taking to their respective fields and courts in winter and spring and debating which one is the most anticipated.

Joseph Crosby
Sports editor
Most anticipated sport: Softball

UCLA softball has long been one of the school’s powerhouse programs.

With 12 national titles – the most of any team in the country – the Bruins’ annual return to Easton Stadium is always a highly anticipated event.

And this season, they’ve got something extra to play for.

UCLA’s postseason run last year was cut drastically short after back-to-back upset losses in the Los Angeles Regional. Right before that, it was upset by Utah in the Pac-12 tournament championship.

The end of the 2023 campaign was something to forget. The 2024 season is one the team will be trying to ensure everyone remembers.

The Bruins return their top three offensive contributors in redshirt senior utility Maya Brady, sophomore utility Megan Grant and sophomore infielder Jordan Woolery. While they’re losing pitchers Megan Faraimo and Lauren Shaw, the trio of sophomore Taylor Tinsley, freshman Kaitlyn Terry and junior Jada Cecil are primed to take over.

Terry is the 12th-ranked recruit in the 2023 class, according to MaxPreps, and struck out 427 batters her senior year, while Cecil – a transfer from UC San Diego – posted a 1.97 ERA as the Tritons’ ace in her sophomore season.

This is certainly a different look for UCLA, especially in the circle, but the talent is there.

Anticipate watching them put it all together in pursuit of their 13th Women’s College World Series title.

Ira Gorawara
Assistant Sports editor
Most anticipated sport: Men’s volleyball

(Felicia Keller/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Players of UCLA men’s volleyball engage in a team huddle with coach John Speraw. (Felicia Keller/Daily Bruin senior staff)

There were a lot of irons in the fire for the reigning national champions this summer.

To set the offseason in motion, UCLA men’s volleyball’s redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry and senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin earned a call-up to the 2023 FIVB Volleyball Men’s Nations League team – one led by none other than John Speraw. The Bruin coach, who simultaneously commands the United States Men’s Volleyball Team, has won four NCAA titles and ushered in an Olympic bronze medal to his nation.

It may not be long till Speraw’s quartet takes a pentagonal shape.

Concurrently, freshman middle blocker Micah Wong Diallo was named to the U.S. roster for the 2023 Men’s U21 NORCECA Pan American Cup, where the team finished as runners-up. Rounding out the underclassman exhibition, Wong Diallo, sophomores outside hitter Zach Rama and setter Andrew Rowan – captain of the Americans – competed in the FIVB Men’s U21 World Championships.

In the last event of the summer, McHenry and Champlin brought the Bruin presence to the NORCECA Men’s Pan American Cup squad, where they clinched 3-of-4 games to finish fifth in the tournament.

Dominating is hardly a word to spell out UCLA’s 2023 campaign. A 17-year national title drought was finally rained on when the team bested Hawaiʻi – a squad the Bruins had lost to earlier in the season. Speraw spearheaded the Bruins to their first 30-plus-win season since 1995, and their first season with more than 20 sweeps this century.

The tiles are set in place for the Bruins, and opponents looking for gaps in the national championship-contending roster will be no more successful than those searching for shadows in the spotlight.

Alexis Hinkle
Assistant Sports editor
Most anticipated sport: Women’s tennis

(Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)
Sophomore Tian Fangran prepares to hit the ball. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

The Bruins are returning 3/4 of their team to the courts for the dual-match season.

And their lone two newcomers have already gained experience on the collegiate stage.

With the combination of seasoned veterans and promising freshmen, UCLA women’s tennis is poised for a deep postseason run and a look at another national championship.

Tian Fangran secured the Bruins’ first national singles title in 28 years in just her first season donning a UCLA jersey. This summer, the now-sophomore conqueror claimed both singles and doubles titles at the USTA SoCal Pro Series and gained experience from other high-level tournaments all over the world.

Backed by a successful summer tour and the support of her teammates, Tian may be on the verge of steering her way to another trophy.

Four other Bruins participated in fall season tournaments, refreshing old partnerships and gaining new ones in doubles action.

At the Arizona State Thunderbird Invitational in early November, the fall quartet – junior Elise Wagle, sophomore Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer, and freshmen Ahmani Guichard and Mia Jovic – rotated in six different combinations to round off a 5-1 tournament record.

The rotation sets the Bruins up for a deep squad come the regular season, as coach Stella Sampras Webster – who is at the helm of UCLA for her 28th season – already has her eyes on the strongest duos.

Guichard and Jovic were both members of winning pairs at the tournament, exemplifying the strength of the Bruins’ new class. The former even had a run in singles play at the ITA All-American Championships in which she lasted the longest out of her older counterparts.

With preseason experience and strong returners, the LA Tennis Center may just become the most-watched arena on campus.

Felicia Keller
Assistant Sports editor
Most anticipated sport: Women’s water polo

(Brandon Morquecho/Assistant Photo editor)
UCLA women’s water polo huddles in and out of the pool while listening to coach Adam Wright. (Brandon Morquecho/Assistant Photo editor)

The Bruins have 10 departures from last year’s roster, including three graduate students – who provided 111 goals collectively – and their starting goalkeeper.

Two of the other departures have remained at UCLA but departed the program. And three of the graduating seniors have played a total of five games between them.

But the returners are well suited for success. The current class of seven sophomores buried 94 goals last season, led by utilities Anna Pearson and Sienna Green, who are expected to feature even more prominently this year.

Graduate student attackers Fiona Kuesis and Brooke Doten have both returned for an additional year of eligibility.

And with a number of freshmen filling out the roster, coach Adam Wright will have a strong bench across the year.

Wright has traditionally made many substitutions at once – or essentially line changes – compared to his competitors, and the strength of this roster up and down will lend to that strategy.

With goal-scoring abilities coming from all sides, this Bruin team will be one to watch as it takes to Spieker Aquatics Center this spring.

Benjamin Royer
Assistant Sports editor
Most anticipated sport: Gymnastics

Sophomore Selena Harris competes on bars at Pauley Pavilion. (Megan Cai/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Sophomore Selena Harris competes on bars at Pauley Pavilion. (Megan Cai/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Coach Janelle McDonald’s first year in charge of UCLA gymnastics focused on rebuilding.

Not just for meets inside Pauley Pavilion, but within practice and outside of the gym as well – the Bruins’ culture needed a revamp.

Now coming off a trip to nationals and bringing in four new student-athletes, it’s time to see what McDonald’s squad can accomplish next.

UCLA’s weakest event in 2023 – vault – is set for a boost from the expected increase in 10.0 start values within the Bruins’ lineup. And with a floor party guaranteed in every meet the team competes at this year, the potential for 198-plus scores is off the charts from the get-go.

Despite the loss of Olympian Jordan Chiles as well as bars-and-beam contributor Ana Padurariu from the 2024 roster – with both attempting to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics – returning gymnasts carry hope for a return to the NCAA semifinals.

Sophomore Selena Harris may become the backbone of the team, with her high scores leading to All-American expectations as she enters the spotlight. Trusty lineup options in senior Chae Campbell, junior Emma Malabuyo and graduate student Margzetta Frazier will be deployed wherever McDonald feels fit.

Depth will be the Bruins’ calling card throughout the year. As a whole, if UCLA is healthy going forward – which is already off to a good start with senior Frida Esparza’s return from injury – event specialists on bars, beam and floor could bolster scores as the season progresses.

Year two of McDonald’s Bruins will be one to watch as the new year arrives.

Cecilia Schmitz
Assistant Sports editor
Most anticipated sport: Beach volleyball

(Brandon Morquecho/Assistant Photo editor)
Sophomore Maggie Boyd leaps to strike the ball while partner graduate student Lexy Denaburg watches. (Brandon Morquecho/Assistant Photo editor)

The Bruins ended last season in heartbreak.

Defeated by crosstown rival USC in the NCAA final, UCLA beach volleyball lost its shot at a national championship.

It would be remiss to say, however, that UCLA fans do not have much to look forward to with the beginning of the 2024 season.

For starters, for the first time in its history, the program will have a new coach. With former head coach Stein Metzger’s departure to Texas, former associate head coach Jenny Johnson Jordan has taken up the mantle.

Expectations are high for this elite squad, and one of the focal points of the season will be seeing if Johnson Jordan is up to the task.

Besides the coaching switch-up, much of the Bruins’ usual starting lineup is returning. Although graduate students Abby Van Winkle, Marlie Monserez and Haley Hallgren have departed, the remaining seven players who usually take to the courts will be back and in the hunt for UCLA’s third national title.

Graduate students Lexy Denaburg, Rileigh Powers, Devon Newberry and Jaden Whitmarsh are all coming back for their final season of eligibility, and the possible pairs that Johnson Jordan can put together are dynamic.

Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Maggie Boyd – now returning for her sophomore year – has plenty of gas left in the tank and can only rise from her standout debut season.

Boasting a squad still full of depth and talent, there are plenty of ways the Bruins could see a season of success.

With a potent mix of crosstown revenge, fresh leadership and seasoned veterans, another national title could very well be in UCLA beach volleyball’s near future.

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Benjamin Royer | Assistant Sports editor
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication 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.
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.
Cecilia Schmitz | Assistant Sports editor
Schmitz is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women’s soccer, beach volleyball, women’s golf and cross country beats. She was previously a contributor on the women’s soccer and beach volleyball beats and a staffer for the Outreach section. She is also a third-year political science and communication student.
Schmitz is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women’s soccer, beach volleyball, women’s golf and cross country beats. She was previously a contributor on the women’s soccer and beach volleyball beats and a staffer for the Outreach section. She is also a third-year political science and communication student.
Ira Gorawara | Assistant Sports editor
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
Hinkle is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's tennis, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a reporter on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Hinkle is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's tennis, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a reporter on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Joseph Crosby | Sports editor
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
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