NCAA women's soccer: UCLA Bruins well-represented in Rio Olympics
UCLA women's soccer will be well-represented at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, as former UCLA head coach Jill Ellis named incoming freshman Mal Pugh to the U.S. squad and 2013 graduate Sam Mewis as an alternate. Also today, UCLA goalkeeper coach Aline Reis was selected to the Brazilian Olympic team. They will all join previously selected Bruins Jessie Fleming (Canada) and Rosie White (New Zealand) as Olympians.
"It's such a great group of players representing UCLA and four different countries," UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell said. "They've all worked so hard to get to this level and to show the world where they are. I think it just goes to show the level of UCLA athletes and of the athletic program. We take it very seriously, about developing our athletes so that they can achieve their goals for the future, and you're seeing it all come to fruition now. I'm proud of the girls who have already graduated, and we're super excited about Mal and Jessie coming in and adding their expertise and experience to the program."
Pugh, who will be 18 years, 3 months and 5 days old when the USA opens the Olympics on Aug. 3, becomes the second-youngest women's soccer Olympian in U.S. history. She earned her first cap for the women's national team on Jan. 23 against Ireland and scored a goal to become the 19th U.S. woman to score a goal in her international debut. Pugh has a total of 13 caps and leads the U.S. team in assists with seven, including an assist in the game-winning goal on Saturday against South Africa.
"What I like about her is that she's come in, held her own and she doesn't get phased or rattled," Ellis said about Pugh. "She's a quality player, and she's a big part of this future, this program going forward. It's not just bringing her in to get experience, it's bringing in a player that can help us down there and impact the game."
"I'm super excited and nervous at the same time," Pugh said. "I thought, 'did that really just happen? Am I going to go to the Olympics?' I will not only be with amazing athletes on my team, but also on Team USA. It will be so cool to see so many different athletes, find out their journeys and be inspired by them."
Mewis, the 2014 Honda Award winner and MAC Hermann Trophy finalist, has 12 caps and two goals in her U.S. Women's National Team career. This year, she has played in eight games with four starts. Mewis was the Pac-12 Player of the Year and a first-team All-American in 2014 after leading the Pac-12 with 16 goals, 13 assists, 45 points and seven game-winning goals. She helped lead UCLA to its first-ever NCAA women's soccer championship in 2013 and finished her UCLA career with 31 goals, 32 assists and 94 points. As one of four alternate replacement players, Mewis will travel with the team to Rio.
"In the last Olympics, Meghan Klingenberg and Christen Press were alternates," Ellis said. "So I think that role is critical, it keeps training alive. It allows us to do certain things at training and their moral and their energy is very important. Everything about them has to be completely professional, so you have to pick the right people for that role and I very much feel that we have that."
"I thought Sam would have a shot to make the roster of 18," said Cromwell, who herself was an alternate at the 1996 Olympic Games. "But I know from personal experience that being an alternate is a huge honor. They have to be ready if someone gets injured, and Sam's a very good option to call into the lineup. She offers so much versatility and can play quite a few positions."
Reis was a four-year starter at Central Florida and earned NSCAA All-Central Region and All-Conference-USA honors all four seasons. As a freshman in 2008, she earned NSCAA All-America second-team honors, and she was also selected to the Soccer America All-Freshman Team after racking up the fifth-most saves in school history (107). Reis went on to earn MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List acclaim as a sophomore and finished the year with a 0.95 GAA, seven shutouts and 82 saves. A two-time NSCAA Scholastic All-American, she capped her senior year by being named to the Lowe's Senior CLASS first-team and leading Central Florida to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1987. UCLA's volunteer goalkeeper coach since 2013. Reis coached NCAA all-time shutout leader Katelyn Rowland. Rowland led the nation in both 2014 and 2013 in goals against average and twice earned NSCAA All-America honors.
"Aline making the Brazilian team is such a great story," Cromwell said. "She's been out of college for quite a few years now, and she was good enough to play pro but it didn't really work out. We were always in her ear a little to keep playing and to keep the door open because she was just so good. All of the players were in awe of her ability whenever she jumped into goal when someone was injured or we needed a fourth goalkeeper. I really hope she gets a chance to go in goal and show the world what a fantastic goalkeeper she is."
The U.S. will open Group G play on Aug. 3 against New Zealand (7pm local / 3pm PT) at Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte. Other group play games will take place at Mineirão Stadium against France on Aug. 6 (5 pm local / 1 pm PT) and at Amazônia Stadium in Manaus against Colombia on Aug. 9 (6pm local / 3pm PT).
Brazil is in Group E and will open on Aug. 3 against China (4pm local / 12pm PT) at Olympic Stadium in Rio De Janeiro. The host team will also play Sweden on Aug. 6 (10pm local / 6pm PT) and South Africa in Manaus on Aug. 9 (9pm local / 6pm PT).
The U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team has advanced to the gold medal game of every Olympic women's soccer tournament that has been contested. The USA won the inaugural gold medal in 1996 in Athens, Ga., won silver in 2000 in Sydney, Australia, and will be going for its fourth straight gold medal after standing atop the podium in Athens, Greece in 2004, in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012.