Brandon Brooks
UCLA head coach Brandon Brooks shares his thoughts as the Bruins get ready to open their 2012 campaign this Saturday at the Michigan Invitational in Ann Arbor, Mich. Brooks enters his third year as the program's head coach. Last season, UCLA went 26-7 overall, finishing third at the NCAA Tournament and second at the MPSF Tournament.

What makes you believe that this team can be successful?

Brandon Brooks: This team is fast. Our returning starters include KK Clark, Emily Greenwood, Brooke Martin and Sarah Orozco. We definitely lost a good amount of experience with last season's senior class, but I think that we're bringing back some very talented players who have shown the ability to lead. We also have a lot of speed. Emily Greenwood and KK are both very fast. We've seen a lot of maturity out of Kelly Ronimus and Nicole Barker. Both those girls have very good speed.

With the loss of Grace Reynolds and Kelly Easterday, what do you expect from the two-meter position?

Brooks: The two-meter position is a major question mark for us as we enter the season. If you went off our lineups last year, the logical fit would be Becca Dorst and maybe even Sarah Orozco. Sarah was our starting center as a freshman on the 2009 championship team. We've done some different things with her over the years. If we need her to get in there to play at two meters, then that's what we'll do. We're also looking at Gabby Juarez and Shelby Couture, and we'll see what they can do as freshmen.

Who are the most dynamic, key scorers on this season's team?

Brooks: We need people who can throw the ball hard. First off, you look at KK Clark and Brooke Martin as being legitimate threats on the offensive end, especially when you talk about shooting. We're hoping to generate easy offense off the counter attack. That's ideal, in which case anybody who is fast and who is out there should get some easy opportunities. When you talk about shooters from the outside, you start with KK and Brooke and you can fill that in with Hannah Sebenaler, Sarah Orozco and Kelly Ronimus, all who are good shooters from outside. Becca Dorst and Emily Greenwood have been working hard on their shot. We want to get some offense from two of our freshmen in Emily Donohoe and Erica Beebe.

How can this team replace the veteran presence of Kelly Easterday and Megan Burmeister on defense?

Brooks: We are going to miss the strengths of those two terrific players. Kelly and Megan meant a lot to our program the last four years. The combination of strength and toughness with those two competitors was fantastic. That is certainly a bit of a question for this year. This year's group has great team chemistry and good team communication for where we are right now. Defensively, any team in this sport has to have terrific communication. So I'm happy where we are with that right now. At the straight two-meter defense position, on the utility side, that's where we'll look for KK to play a major role. Emily Greenwood has played in almost every game since she has been here. We've seen solid improvement out of Natasha Schulman. She does a good job defending.

Entering your third season as UCLA's head coach, how much more comfortable do you feel in your role now than when you began?

Brooks: I feel much more comfortable with two years under my belt. I've seen a lot of different situations, both on the pool deck and away from games and practices. I feel very solid in my position. Every year, I reflect a lot and try looking at a lot of situations where I may have done something differently -- things that I have control of and areas where I need to make changes. Our staff, Molly and I both, are growing as coaches, and we look forward to improving at an exponential rate. We are always striving to improve. As far as in-game situations, the more you see, the more you know.

Talk about your expectations with this team's goalkeepers?

Brooks: We have three goalkeepers in our program, but only Caitlin Dement and freshman Sarah Wilkey will play for us this season. We're honored that Sami Hill has been called up to train with the U.S. National Team. I wish her the best, but as far as we are concerned this season, she'll redshirt for us. She really isn't in the mix this season. We're in great hands with both Caitlin and Sarah. Sarah comes to UCLA from a very good program and team in Newport Harbor. She's impressed us with her attitude and work ethic. Caitlin is a two-year starter and is as good as any goalie out there. Not only is she long, athletic and explosive to the ball, but she's got a ton of experience. That is invaluable. The difference between a sophomore to a junior and a junior to a senior is huge. She has a great demeanor and will be the anchor of our defense.

What makes KK Clark such a strong asset to this team?

Brooks: From a coach's standpoint, it's nice to know that you have somebody who can do almost anything you need them to do. If you're looking for someone to fill a role and you need a piece that will fit a scenario, KK is very versatile. with good speed and a good shot, she's been showing great improvement in strength and in the weight room. She can legitimately play every position in the pool.

Both Sarah Orozco and Gisselle Naranjo spent the offseason training with the Mexican National Team. How will those experiences help the Bruins in 2012?

Brooks: We're very excited to have Sarah and Gisselle back. They trained with the Mexican National Team from mid-May through October. Those two worked very hard and got to experience the World University Games and Pan American Games. Sarah is the prime example of someone who has so much heart and so much self-determination. She gives it her all. She brings a ton of passion and character to our program. And Gisselle is a very intelligent player. At 5-foot-5, she is every bit as good as anybody else out there. She reads situations well and is emotionally consistent.

What do you anticipate in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) this season?

Brooks: I think that this year is a pretty big question mark. Much remains to be seen, as far as the parity of our conference. Stanford is the defending national champion, and they return a good amount of talent. Stanford would be returning an even more stellar team if not for two returners and an incoming freshman training with the U.S. National Team. I'm very curious to see what Cal will look like. The last couple years have been the best for their program. USC has some dangerous shooters and always presents a very strong challenge. Hawaii loses a terrific player in Monika Eggens and brings in a first-year head coach. ASU has a couple strong additions. San Jose State lost a lot with Adrianna Vogt but they're a solid, competitive team. I think that San Diego State could definitely surprise some people.