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Mike Lopresti | | September 9, 2022

8 things to know about the UCLA women's soccer team's rise to No. 1

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Now that UCLA women's soccer has charged to No. 1 in the rankings by barnstorming though the state of North Carolina — the Bruins just pulled off a feat that no other team in any sport might accomplish this year — maybe we should get acquainted a little bit.

Here are eight things to know about the new team at the top of the polls...

1. A Tobacco Road rivalry sweep

In 72 hours last weekend, and 2,500 miles from home, the Bruins knocked off No. 2. And then No. 1. First, 2-1 over Duke in Durham. Then, a 2-1 comeback over North Carolina in Chapel Hill. That’s cutting a swath through Tobacco Road. “It just showed the type of team we can be, and that we are,” said sophomore Lexi Wright, who assisted on the winning goal at Duke and scored herself to tie the North Carolina game.

RANKINGS: Women's soccer Top 25 rankings Championship history | 2019 College Cup

2. Overcoming the Tar Heels

The victory in Chapel Hill was not just any ol’ Sunday afternoon. North Carolina has been a real pain in the net for the Bruins, who had been 1-11-2 all-time against the Tar Heels, including getting knocked out of the NCAA tournament by them five times.

Also, North Carolina — the bluest blood in the sport with 21 national championships — had not lost a game after leading since 2017. The Tar Heels came into the day 5-0 this season by a combined score of 16-1. “To credit UCLA, they didn’t give us an open look,” coach Anson Dorrance said afterward. “It’s tough to play against a committed, organized defense with numbers. That’s a credit to their game plan and the commitment of their players.”

BRUINS BEAT NO. 1: UCLA upsets UNC to cap big week

3. Reilyn Turner is clutch

The winning goal against both Duke and North Carolina came from Reilyn Turner. The junior now has eight game-winners in her career. She attended a UCLA soccer camp at the age of eight and began dreaming of the day she’d be a Bruin. And now she is. When NIL deals became the rage, Nike was naturally going to start writing checks. The first college athlete in the nation Nike signed? Reilyn Turner. Her mother Felicia was a college soccer player, too. Father Nate was an NFL receiver with the Chargers and Saints.

4. A great surfer is a great goalie

The goalkeeper is a California surfer girl. The Beach Boys sang about people such as Lauren Brzykcy. “I was literally on the board when I was three years old,” she was saying the other day, taking time off to — what else? — watch a surfing competition. And how does this fit into a soccer career where she almost always manages to be in the way of the other team’s shots? “Being able to balance and reaction, I feel like that’s all surfing because you don’t know what the wave's going to do,” she said.

Brzykcy is in her sixth year at UCLA, is in the top five for Bruin career saves, and seems to be only getting better. She’s allowed two goals in five games this season. “Lauren was an absolute brick wall for us,” coach Margueritte Aozasa said of the weekend in North Carolina, which included 13 saves. “I’ve been telling everyone she’s been playing with just kind of a more calm, confidence about her. In the past, there was a little bit of frantic energy with Lauren. Now it’s very calm. Everything’s in control.”

UCLA UPSETS DUKE: No. 3 UCLA grinds out win at No. 2 Duke and more from Thursday's action

5. New Coach? No problem

The coach is in her first season. This time last year, Aozasa was a Stanford assistant. In her first five games as a head coach, her team has rolled to No. 1 and gone on the road to beat the two top-ranked powers, and also 2020-21 national champion Santa Clara. 

“We’ve told them use this as motivation,” she said of her players. “You’ve proven to yourselves and you’ve proven to the rest of the country that you can play against great teams, but none of that matters if we don’t take care of business."

“One thing I will acknowledge is It helped us build even more trust between the staff and the team and also from player to player. We’re excited to see how that trust, how that chemistry shows itself in the next couple of days.”

Aozasa isn’t afraid to be bold. She installed a new 3-5-2 formation for the Bruins the day before the Duke game. A truly 11th hour left turn that must have worked. “We had that trust in them,” Brzykcy said of the coaches, “like they had the trust in us.”

6. Sunshine brings goals

The leader in scoring this season with four goals is Sunshine Fontes. She had a hat trick in 48 minutes against CSUN, and was named national player of the week. Turner was named national player of the next week. That’s how a team gets to 5-0.

7. The Bruins aren't letting up

What’s next for UCLA? Cal State Fullerton Sunday. After last week’s noise, Aozasa is eager to get focus back on simply improving as a team. “Hopefully this week is a little less about our opponent and a little more about us,” she said. Meanwhile, the players want to take that new No. 1 ranking out for a spin and keep the momentum. “I think we definitely want to have the same mindset,” Wright said. “Keep the foot on the gas pedal, not let up.”

But things are a little different when you’re No. 1. “Now we have a big target on our back,’ Brzykcy said.

FULL SCOREBOARD: Click or tap here to see all the results around DI women's soccer

8. UCLA is title-hunting

The end goal is plain enough. UCLA has been a monster in the Pac-12. The Bruins are 213-53-20 all-time against conference opponents. Take away Aozasa’s old employee, Stanford, and they’re 200-35-18. But they’re a little short of national hardware, compared to the North Carolinas of the world. One national championship in 2013 and four second places. A glowing tradition, but they’d love another title trophy.

To manage that, they’ll have to go on the road to beat the best. Last weekend was a fine dress rehearsal. “I think it’s great to go through the gauntlet a little bit during the season,” Aozasa said.

Which they just did. The Bruins are riding a wave. Their goalkeeper certainly understands that feeling.

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