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UCLA women’s club lacrosse seizes 1st national championship title in team history

UCLA women’s club lacrosse smiles for a team photo after winning its first national championship. (Courtesy of Alan Moskowitz)

By Chloe Agas

May 19, 2024 2:10 p.m.

This post was updated May 19 at 10:57 p.m.

Seven times. That’s how often the Bruins appeared on the national stage, ranking amongst the top contenders in the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates.

Yet – despite two national runner-up finishes – a championship remained just out of reach.

Until now.

UCLA women’s club lacrosse defeated Northeastern 13-8 at the Stryker Sports Complex in Wichita, Kansas, on May 10, securing the Bruins’ first national title in team history.

Coach Sarah Duncan said the “secret sauce” of the team’s victory lay within its hard work and dedication.

“The only reason we got this far as a team is because every single player – whether or not they had time as a starter, scored goals or had a lot of game minutes – every single one of those girls was committed to the mission,” Duncan said.

Coach Sarah Duncan poses with the national trophy. (Courtesy of Alan Moskowitz)
Coach Sarah Duncan poses with the national trophy. (Courtesy of Alan Moskowitz)

Duncan played for her local high school and made the foray into Division I lacrosse at Davidson College. She retired from the sport shortly after graduation, but the absence of her greatest hobby forged a void in her life.

“When you graduate and have to take a step back from the sport that’s such a big part of your life, it can kind of leave a gaping hole,” Duncan said. “I was detached from lacrosse, which is kind of a bummer.”

After Duncan graduated from UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2020, she received a LinkedIn message about a coaching position for UCLA women’s club lacrosse. Six days later, she signed the contract to officially begin working with the team in 2021.

“I knew at the beginning of this season that we were going for a natty,” Duncan said. “I was on the train from day one.”

Senior midfielder Sydney Riepl – who is also the captain and club president – said Duncan implemented John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success in practice each week, allowing the team to hone in on every step of a winning process.

(Courtesy of UCLA women's club lacrosse)
Freshman attacker Caroline Underwood (left) and senior midfielder Sydney Riepl (right) celebrate during the national finals. (Courtesy of Alan Moskowitz)

“She (Riepl) has always been a huge catalyst for us on the field,” Duncan said. “Working on the game, the work that she puts in as the president – it just has really sort of cemented her bond to the team in the program even more.”

Hailing from New Jersey, Riepl said moving across the country was a huge change, but joining the team gave her some welcomed stability.

“The most rewarding part is just seeing everybody come to practice and being in such high spirits,” she said. “You just come here with the people that you love, and you play a sport that you love, and then something great can come out of that.”

Freshman attacker Caroline Underwood said a playoff road trip to Arizona strengthened her and Riepl’s friendship.

“On the team, (Riepl) is the biggest celebrator for others when they score a goal,” Underwood said. “She’s like screaming, jumps into their arms – she’s a really good teammate.”

Underwood – this season’s WCLA Rookie of the Year said the team first recognized its potential in a scrimmage win against Pomona.

“Every week, we started off with a different goal that added up to just overall improvement,” Underwood said. “Our coaches also made sure we wanted to have fun every game. She’s like, ‘You play your best lacrosse when you’re having fun’ – enjoying yourself but also improvement every week.”

During nationals, UCLA focused on its celebrations. Each player had a specific dance and encouraged each other to celebrate big plays.

Despite the seemingly nonchalant approach, UCLA had to face a gauntlet that stretched beyond just four games in as many days.

Tornado warnings, nerves and tough matchups were at odds with the Bruins.

“First day, we were there – it was actually a tornado warning,” Underwood said. “We’re the only team that went out to practice that day.”

After UCLA notched a 21-4 victory against Washington, the quarterfinal round presented a matchup against Clemson.

“I knew it’s going to be a more difficult game,” Underwood said. “Clemson had just beaten Utah – the one team we lost to this season.”

Riepl said a talk during halftime from Duncan alleviated the previous worries the team felt throughout the match.

The halftime pep talk worked, as a 12-5 win over the Tigers propelled the Bruins to the semifinals.

There, UCLA faced Georgia – the past two years’ national runner-up.

“Their (Georgia’s) defense was the best we’ve played against,” Underwood said. “Our defense played the best they’ve ever played – that game we owe to them.”

The Bruins beat the Bulldogs 4-3, sending themselves to the final spectacle.

(Courtesy of UCLA women's club lacrosse)
The Bruins celebrate after defeating the Wildcats 13-8. (Courtesy of Alan Moskowitz)

The day of the championship game, Underwood said everyone felt confident. And as the final whistle blew in the five-goal win over Northeastern, exhaustion, relief and accomplishment filled the field.

“After four days of lacrosse, I was exhausted,” Underwood said. “I was thinking back to like our conditioning week – a week of straight running – I was like, ‘Oh my god, it was all worth it.’”

Riepl also said the team’s success could be credited to its preparation.

“We put in so much work, so many hours, trying to accomplish this one goal,” Riepl said. “Then afterwards, you realize, wow, we’re number one. We really did it – we’re number one in the nation.”

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