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Battle of the Editors: Which UCLA team is on track to claim back-to-back national titles?

Junior Zoe Antoinette Campos follows through on a swing. (Courtesy of UCLA Athletics)

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

May 7, 2024 4:01 p.m.

This post was updated May 7 at 9:32 p.m.

UCLA men’s volleyball claimed its second national championship in as many seasons with a win over Long Beach State on Saturday. Now, with its season in the books, the Daily Bruin Sports editors debate which team is most likely to follow suit and go back-to-back.

Joseph Crosby
Sports editor
Next repeat: Women’s golf

UCLA women’s golf hasn’t won a national championship since 2011 – by no means the longest drought for any UCLA program, but a decade-plus stretch nonetheless.

This year, though, the Bruins are well on their way to the first title needed for a repeat.

Currently competing in the NCAA regionals, UCLA stands in third as of the conclusion of the second day, needing a top-five finish to advance to the championships.

Boasting the No. 1 seed at the Las Vegas regional, UCLA has been a top team in the country for much of the season. It finished first at four stroke play events, added two more top-three finishes, defeated USC in the fall in match play and most recently finished fourth at the Pac-12 championships.

Needless to say, the Bruins have the talent to win it all – and experience in both match and stroke play formats.

And that talent isn’t going anywhere.

Led by two-time All-Pac-12 First Team honoree junior Zoe Antoinette Campos, UCLA’s playoff lineup features a former All-Pac-12 First Team member in junior Caroline Canales and a pair of All-Pac-12 Honorable Mentions in sophomore Meghan Royal and senior Kate Villegas – and is rounded out by junior Natalie Vo.

With four of them slated to return for the 2024-2025 season – and Villegas likely able to gain another year of eligibility should she choose to – the Bruins possess the year-to-year consistency required for consecutive runs at a national championship.

The course is laid. All that’s left is to drive, chip and putt their way to a title – or two.

(Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)
Sophomore outside hitter Zach Rama pushes the ball over the net. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

Ira Gorawara
Assistant Sports editor
Next repeat: Men’s volleyball

Patterns. We learned them in kindergarten.

Maybe this defeats the purpose. But yes, I mean a four-peat.

The continuation of a trend that is climbing on an upward trajectory.

UCLA men’s volleyball was ensconced in a colorful downpour of confetti, and players adorned their necks in nets after delivering national hardware back to Westwood. And last year, the same feat ruptured a 17-year national title drought.

Next season, coach John Speraw will lose 60% of his 2024 All-American class, two of whom featured on the First Team: senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin and redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry.

It’s not ideal, but it’s not a problem.

The depth of UCLA’s arsenal is its anchor. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson and sophomore outside hitter Zach Rama paled in comparison to their counterpart, sophomore setter Andrew Rowan, who assumed starting duties early in his first year and was almost an undisputed contender for AVCA Newcomer of the Year honors.

But after Robinson scripted a tale of transformation this season, his upperclassman status will promise extended playing time and the mantle of leadership within a squad poised for a third straight title.

Rama, the other unit of the tandem, was Speraw’s most reliable asset. After handily avoiding a five-set upset to USC earlier this season, Rama hammered in three consecutive kills in the fourth – and what became the final – frame of the NCAA finals.

From being tied at 20 apiece, Rama’s heroics put the Bruins just two points shy of national grandeur.

And with two national championship appearances in their purview, the pattern will multiply their glory.

(Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)
Sophomore Tian Fangran extends to hit the ball. Tian won the NCAA singles title as a freshman in 2023. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

Alexis Hinkle
Assistant Sports editor
Next repeat: Tian Fangran

Confetti falls and fans erupt in merriment at the end of every NCAA championship.

The members of the winning team pile on top of one another, sharing tears and smiles for attaining the most respected collegiate trophy.

And when the award is handed to the players, they hoist it with pride.

But clinching the NCAA singles title proves different – the trophy is lifted with just two hands. Sophomore Tian Fangran is just the second UCLA women’s tennis player to know the feeling.

And she’ll be the first in program history to know it twice.

In her freshman season, Tian won all 15 of her regular-season duels and earned Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year. She defeated nearly all her opponents on court one, taking on the best players in the country as a rookie.

When she stepped onto the national stage in 2023, she won every single set in each match leading up to the championship. In her final match, Tian didn’t back down, continuing on her roll and emerging victorious.

This time around, it won’t just look like she’s been there before. The 2024 NCAA women’s singles tournament will be her second.

She’s more than halfway there, and she can make history once more.

(Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Members of UCLA women’s water polo hug each other and clap. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Felicia Keller
Assistant Sports editor
Next repeat: Women’s water polo

The answer is clear.

Only one team remains undefeated this year, bolstered by a young core that will define the future.

UCLA women’s water polo is headed to the NCAA tournament this weekend as the No. 1 seed with the potential to kick off a back-to-back run. The Bruins have already beaten every team in the tournament at least once this season.

To win the national championship, the Bruins will have to go undefeated on the year – and the last time they went undefeated, they won it all in 2008. And yes, they won the next year, too.

Those two seasons capped off a five-year run of championships for UCLA.

That run began in 2005 with – you guessed it – an undefeated season.

This squad is bursting with talent, even with two of last year’s stars redshirting the year for the Olympics.

But the freshman talent has featured in droves this year, from goalkeeper Lauren Steele, who won MPSF tournament MVP, to utility Panni Szegedi, who sits second on the team with 33 goals.

Stopping this team would take a monumental effort from an opponent working to subvert Steele’s goalkeeping and the Bruins’ strength at the center position.

Coupled with the fate of history and the strength of the roster, I don’t see this team losing a championship anytime soon.

(Julia Zhou/Photo editor)
Jordan Chiles poses on beam during a routine at Pauley Pavilion. (Julia Zhou/Photo editor)

Benjamin Royer
Assistant Sports editor
Next repeat: Gymnastics

Look out. Jordan Chiles may be back in Westwood.

And if she is, she very well could help lead UCLA gymnastics to back-to-back national titles.

But it’s not just Chiles rejoining the fray. It’s the next two freshman classes as well.

Sasha Fujisaka, Macy McGowan, Camryn Richardson and Mika Webster-Longin highlight the Bruins’ incoming six-gymnast class – and they won’t be the only new faces making their debuts.

Freshman Sydney Barros – who’d been rehabbing the knee injury she sustained during her quest to qualify for the 2024 Olympics – should be an immediate all-around threat.

When it rains, with a lot of talent on the roster, it pours. Depth can launch UCLA into the national conversation after a disappointing end to the 2024 campaign.

And why not dream about the 2026 season too? Nola Matthews, Tiana Sumanasekera, Jordis Eichman and Ava Marie Callahan highlight coach Janelle McDonald’s recruiting coup, with the former three already competing in United States senior elite competitions.

Add in sophomore star Selena Harris’ junior and senior campaigns, as well as freshman Katelyn Rosen emerging through her sophomore and junior years, and the stars are aligning. And the excitement is palpable.

LSU showed it’s possible. Oklahoma can’t win every year.

So, why can’t UCLA shoot for the stars twice?

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Ira Gorawara | Sports editor
Gorawara is the 2024-2025 Sports editor on the football, men’s basketball and NIL beats and a Copy contributor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men’s volleyball, men’s tennis, women’s volleyball and rowing beats and a contributor on the men’s volleyball and rowing beats. She is a rising third-year economics and communication student minoring in professional writing from Hong Kong.
Gorawara is the 2024-2025 Sports editor on the football, men’s basketball and NIL beats and a Copy contributor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men’s volleyball, men’s tennis, women’s volleyball and rowing beats and a contributor on the men’s volleyball and rowing beats. She is a rising third-year economics and communication student minoring in professional writing from Hong Kong.
Benjamin Royer | Alumnus
Royer was 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 also a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats in 2022-2023. He studied communication and graduated in 2024.
Royer was 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 also a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats in 2022-2023. He studied communication and graduated in 2024.
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.
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.
Crosby was 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.
Crosby was 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.
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