Everyone wants a national championship, but the UCLA women’s soccer team started seriously believing it could win one after going cross-country in September to upset then-No. 1 North Carolina, 2-1, a couple days after they’d also knocked off No. 2 Duke, 2-1.
Since then, first-year head coach Margueritte Aozasa has continued to steer a program she took over less than a year ago toward that very real goal. She has the Bruins one victory away, needing only to defeat North Carolina, in North Carolina.
Monday’s championship between the No. 1-ranked Bruins and now-No. 2 Tar Heels is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will air on ESPNU.
“I just feel like those were obviously our first two big tests and and I just feel like that really showed us that we are capable to win any game,” said UCLA’s graduate goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy, a first-team All-Pacific Region pick who’s allowed just 11 goals in 24 matches this season.
“Those two games really have showed us like, ‘OK, we can do this. We can win the national championship.’ ”
North Carolina (20-4-1) thrives on pressure and creating chaos and has outscored opponents 16-5 in five matches since the 64-team NCAA tournament began. This is College Cup No. 31 for the Tar Heels, who’ve won 21 of 40 national championships but none since 2012. Meanwhile, UCLA is playing in its sixth College Cup final and for its second championship.
Monday’s match will take place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary – about a half-hour drive from the University of North Carolina.
Playing on what’s essentially the Tar Heels’ home turf shouldn’t be an obstacle, the Bruins insist. After all: Been there, done that.
Where the Bruins haven’t been nearly as much they’ve wanted: On top of the pile at the end of the season. Across all sports, UCLA has won 119 championships – but only the one, in 2013, also in Cary, belongs to a women’s soccer program that draws so much of its talent from the Southern California hotbed, including 16 members of the current squad.
“We’ve underperformed at the national level,” San Clemente’s Madelyn Desiano said in September, shortly after the Bruins served notice by sweeping the North Carolina-based powers earlier this season.
“It’s frustrating because you have the talent, you have the work ethic, but we’ve been missing the final piece. Talent and just having ‘UCLA women’s soccer,’ just having the name, it only gets you so far. And then the will to win comes in, and we’ve been missing that.”
WHAT A BEAUTY 🤩 @MadelynDesiano
— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) December 3, 2022
Desiano wasn’t missing Friday in the Bruins’ 3-0 semifinal victory over Alabama. Willfully, the sixth-year defender seized an opportunity, collecting a loose ball and going on a brilliant solo run before firing an 18-yard shot into the upper left corner of the net. In the 31st minute, it was Desiano’s third goal of her career and UCLA’s third of the evening, following those by Quincy McMahon and Reilyn Turner.
Now Desiano and her teammates have given themselves a golden opportunity, one that Aozasa said they should feel privileged to have.
“There’s literally two teams in the country that get to do this every single year,” said the former Stanford assistant who was on the coaching staffs for NCAA championship teams in 2017 and 2019.
“It’s just about enjoying that moment enjoying kind of the pressure of that situation and just knowing that we just need to be ourselves.”
North Carolina vs. UCLA
When: Monday, 3 p.m.
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C.