Nov. 19, 2009

UCLA is just two wins away from advancing to its seventh consecutive NCAA Women's College Cup, and one of the constants for the Bruins during much of that stretch has been the stellar play of forward Lauren Cheney.

The senior from Indianapolis, Ind., began her collegiate career as the nation's No. 1 recruit coming out of Ben Davis High School, and her four years with the Bruins have certainly stood up to that top billing. Cheney led the competitive Pac-10 Conference in points in her first season, earning the league's Freshman of the Year award, and has garnered NSCAA/adidas First Team All-America honors in her first three years. Cheney is in the midst of another All-American season with 16 goals and nine assists for 41 points, helping the Bruins to a 19-2-1 record and No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"It's definitely tough to consistently be in the top five, but it's a credit to our environment at UCLA," said Cheney. "Every year, we get new faces and lose a couple players that are obviously big parts of our team, but being disciplined and able to keep the environment going so we can be the best is what's special about UCLA."

In her first two postseason games this year, Cheney contributed three goals and three assists as UCLA defeated Boise State and San Diego State by a combined score of 12-1. With her nine points last weekend, Cheney is just one point shy of tying Traci Arkenberg (1994-97) for the school career scoring record. She has 168 career points on 69 goals and 30 assists, and needs just two goals to tie Arkenberg's all-time goals record of 71.

"I had no idea I was even close to breaking any records until just last week," said Cheney. "There have been so many amazing players come through UCLA - to think of myself being able to possibly leave record or be on top of the charts - it's very humbling. It's also exciting. You always want to leave your mark wherever you go. Hopefully, I just don't leave a scoring record - I hope I leave a little bit more, but this is obviously an accomplishment, too."

Cheney's experience on the U.S. National Team, and member of the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal squad, also molded her collegiate experience.

"Being on the national team is so humbling, so coming back to a college experience it definitely opened my eyes to what every player feels," said Cheney. "A lot of college players come in and start every game and never understand their teammates who are on the bench. On the national team, I play that role - I'm a bench player. In the Olympics, I was a bench player. It's nice that I've gotten the full experience. I know how each and every player feels on my team and I think that's opened my mind since freshman year and helped me be a better teammate."

Cheney and sophomore forward Sydney Leroux are part of a potent Bruin offense that is averaging 2.91 goals per game (10th in nation). Both players have scored over 40 points this season, becoming the first UCLA tandem to accomplish the feat. They have combined for 85 of 195 of the team's points, or 43.5 percent of UCLA's scoring.

"At the beginning of the year the team struggled a little bit," said Cheney. "We were all still trying to find our niche - we have a lot of freshmen playing for us. Now, I think we understand each other. I love playing up top with Sydney - she is an awesome soccer player and a lot of fun to play with. We're a team that likes to knock the ball around. As the season goes on we're learning to play with each other better and better."

After opening the season with a disappointing 7-2 loss at North Carolina and tying San Diego, 1-1 in double overtime, the Bruins have gone virtually unscathed, bouncing back from an 0-1-1 start. "I think we needed that," said Cheney. "Going out there (to UNC) and getting it handed to us I definitely think set a standard for the rest of our season."

UCLA's only other setback of the season was a 2-0 loss to No. 1 Stanford in Pac-10 play.

"Against Stanford, it was pretty evenly matched," said Cheney. "They had the majority of the chances, but knowing that we could play with them, that's reassuring knowing we're not very far off and it could go either way any day."

Since the loss to the Cardinal, the Bruins have reeled off seven straight wins, outscoring foes 28-4 during the stretch, including the pair of NCAA postseason victories.

"It has definitely built up our confidence," said Cheney. "Boise State scored on us early and that was an eye-opener. Against San Diego State, I think we came out stronger than we did against Boise State. Every team hopes to peak at this time. Scoring as many goals as we did last weekend, coming into this game we know we can score goals."

UCLA will host Virginia in the third round of NCAA action on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. PT. The winner will play the winner of Portland and Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals.