UCLA Olympic Sports Update, December 12th


Disappointing news from the soccer pitch this week, which was offset by some very good news on the volleyball court…

MEN’S SOCCER –  Coach Jorge Salcedo saw his team’s run at the national championship end in a very disappoining fashion in the NCAA College Cup in Hoover, AL, as the Bruins lost to top-seeded North Carolina on penalty kicks, 3-1, after the game ended in a 2-2 tie in regulation and nothing was settled through two overtimes.

Ryan Hollingshead and Kelyn Rowe scored for UCLA, as the Bruins took leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but the Tar Heels, who eventually won the NCAA title by beating Charlotte 1-0 on Sunday, scored the tying goal in the 85th minute and sent the match to extra periods.

After 20 minutes of overtime, UCLA proceeded to choke – yes, I said it because that’s what they did – on the penalty kicks as North Carolina took a quick 2-0 lead and never looked back.

Overall, the Bruins had a very good season as they finished 2011 with a record of 18-4-2, the most wins in the program since 2003, and went undefeated in the Pac-10/12 Conference for the first time since ’03.

Unfortunately, winning national championships and increasing their nation-leading total of 107 is what matters most; I’m just being honest here.

After all, there’s a reason why the marketing slogan for UCLA Athletics is “Champions Made Here”.

That’s why as good a season as the soccer team had, it just wasn’t good enough, so I wouldn’t be honest if I said that it wasn’t a disappointment.

I’m definitely not satisfied. And neither should they.

WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL –  These ninth-seeded Bruins were on fire in Lexington, KY this past weekend, as they claimed a spot in the national semifinals – volleyball’s Final Four – by first ending eighth-seeded Penn State’s four-year run as national champions on December 9, then turning around and doing something that their men’s soccer counterparts couldn’t: knocking the top seed and defeating Texas on December 10 to win their regionals.

Mike Sealy’s ladies not only beat the Nittany Lions, but won in straight sets 25-20, 25-22, and 25-21, before ending the Longhorns’ run in four sets with scores of 19-25, 25-22, 25-22, and 25-21.

Rachael Kidder has emerged as the go-to stud for UCLA in this post-sason, as she was maned the regional’s Most Outstanding Player. The 6′ 3″ junior outside hitter hit .355 with a match-high 15 kills against Penn State and did even better against Texas, hitting .417 with 26 kills.

The red hair that Kidder has reminded me of another redhead who played basketball for the Bruins back in the day and was quite dominating in his own right – Bill Walton.

I don’t know if Kidder is as free spirited as Walton was, but she has really stepped up for her team all the same.

With their record now standing at 28-6, these Bruins will next play 12th seeded Florida State in San Antonio, TX, on Thursday, December 15. If they win that, they could well face USC for the NCAA title as they beat Pepperdine in five sets, punching their own ticket to San Antonio.

As UCLA has been more or less owned by the Trojans in recent weeks, getting humiliated by them in football and losing the national championship to them in men’s water polo, to get another shot at redemption and restoring Bruin pride over their crosstown rivals is imperative, provided that both Los Angeles schools win their semifinal matches.

Beating Florida State is imperative before the Bruins can think about beating the Trojans and getting revenge on them for winning the Pac-12 title at their expense in the John Wooden Center a few weeks ago.

Let’s see how things unfold this Thursday.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL –  These Lady Bruins didn’t play last week due to final exams, but they will be returning to action this week with two big games, with one of them being an absolutely huge one…

Cori Close’s team, currently at 5-2 on the season, will travel to Baton Rouge, LA to face LSU on Tuesday, December 13. The big significance of this is that the Tigers are coached by none other than Nikki Caldwell, who spent the previous three years as the Bruins’ coach.

Talk about your reunions!

As Caldwell knows the UCLA players well and what they can and can’t do on the court, look for a potentially tough game on the road for these Bruins, though I don’t think it will be a blowout and I’m confident that they will give LSU a good run.

UCLA’s following game after LSU will be an epic one as Pat Summitt – who was just named Sports Illustrated’s Sportswoman of the Year – and her 7th-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers will be coming to the John Wooden Center this Saturday, December 17.

As Summitt is a true coaching legend along the lines of John Wooden – she has won more basketball games than any coach in history, male or female, and her eight national championships are only two behind Wooden’s ten – this game deserves special attention. A preview of the UCLA-Tennessee matchup will appear on Go Joe Bruin later this week, with a separate recap of the game coming next Monday.

As for the Bruins, they have had good numbers from certain players so far, who have stepped up in the absence of Jasmine Dixon, who tore her ACL before the season and is not playing this year.

Atonye Nyingifa and Rebekah Gardner have been the go-to studs, leading UCLA at 16.6 points a game each with Nyingifa also leading the team in rebounding at 10.6 a contest. Thea Lemberger is the other Bruin averaging in double figures, 10.9 points a game.

Call me crazy, but the solid play of this team has me thinking that they have a shot in these two upcoming games, or at least give LSU and Tennessee good challenges. We’ll see…