U.C.L.A. Adds a Title to the ‘Conference of Champions.’ Will It Be Its Last?
With its run of men’s basketball dominance under John Wooden, a five-peat in women’s water polo and three-peats in sports like softball and men’s volleyball, U.C.L.A. has long given credence to the Pac-12’s claim as the conference of champions. With the Bruins set to leave for the Big Ten Conference, pending an intervention from the University of California Board of Regents, they made sure they would add at least one more title before they go.
U.C.L.A.’s women’s soccer team staged a rousing comeback to beat North Carolina, 3-2, in two overtimes to take the Division I national championship on Monday in Cary, N.C. The program won its second championship, after having won in 2013, and the 120th in the university’s athletic history.
Bruins goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy held the ball as the final seconds ticked down, then punted it down the field and ran toward her teammates, who came rushing from the sideline. Margueritte Aozasa received a bath from a water cooler after capping her first season as a head coach with a championship.
But as late as the final minute of regulation, it looked as if North Carolina, playing a 30-minute drive from its campus, would be the team celebrating with its fans.
The Tar Heels had taken a 2-0 lead by the 75th minute on two second-half headers by Avery Patterson. The Bruins scored in the 80th minute to cut their deficit in half, but they still needed a goal to force overtime as the clock wound to zero. (The clock counts down in N.C.A.A. Division I soccer rather than up, as in the World Cup and other professional ranks.)
A corner kick in the final 30 seconds would most likely be U.C.L.A.’s last chance. Brzykcy joined her attacking teammates in the penalty area. With 20 seconds on the clock, Ally Lemos struck a ball with her right foot that headed toward the back post, where Reilyn Turner headed it past the keeper.
The first 10-minute overtime period passed without a goal. A second scoreless period would have sent the game to penalty kicks — just like last year’s final, when Florida State topped Brigham Young, and just like in the second round of this year’s tournament, when No. 1-seeded U.C.L.A. nearly fell to Central Florida.
U.C.L.A. narrowly managed to avoid leaving it up to the shootout this time, though. With less than four minutes remaining in the second overtime, Maricarmen Reyes raced to the rebound after a save by North Carolina’s Emmie Allen and slid it underneath Allen’s dive into the goal.
It was the first time in Women’s College Cup history that a team overcame a two-goal deficit to win a title, according to ESPN Stats and Info. And Aozasa became the first N.C.A.A. women’s soccer coach to win a title in the first season as a head coach.
The Bruins’ win came after the school’s football team finished the regular season in the top 20 of the College Football Playoff rankings and with both basketball teams in the top 20 of the Associated Press poll. It’s the type of success U.C.L.A. hopes to continue heading into its planned move to the Big Ten in 2024. Because U.C.L.A. is a public school, unlike Southern California, which also announced it would leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, the California regents could block the move.
Regents have expressed concerns over how traveling to states like Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania for competitions could affect athletes’ academics, and they have worried that U.C.L.A.’s departure would adversely affect Cal-Berkeley, which is also in the Pac-12. The regents said last month that they would have a special session on Dec. 14 to resolve the matter.