UCLA hurdler Marcus Nilsson, Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
In light of athletic director Dan Guerrero‘s contract extension through 2019, it’s as good a time as ever to take a look at how the UCLA athletics department is doing big picture. Beyond football, beyond basketball and even beyond baseball, where do the Bruins fit on the national stage?
For the most part, UCLA is in contention for national championships every year, but the proud institution hasn’t brought home any hardware since December 2011 when the women’s volleyball team won it all. For reasons too obvious to list, that is simply unacceptable. And as the Bruins continue their collective hunt for No. 109, the Stanford Cardinal inch closer with 103 to their credit. Here’s a rundown of UCLA’s non-revenue sports currently in action, and a guess as to whether or not the next national crown is in the cards.
Women’s Water Polo
Up until the last four years, the UCLA women’s water polo program was practically unbeatable. The Bruins took home the national title seven times since 2001, including five straight years from 2005-2009. But since then, it’s been nothing but heartbreak, as the Bruins have lost early-on in the NCAA Tournament each year.
However, this year’s team has a chance to return to its former glory. UCLA has played its way to a 21-3 overall record and No. 4 ranking in the CWPA Poll. The Bruins have won five consecutive matches, three of which came over ranked opponents. They face a major test this Saturday as they are set to travel to Palo Alto, Calif. to take on No. 2 Stanford. The Cardinal boast an impeccable 19-1 record, which includes an 8-5 win over UCLA earlier in the season. How the Bruins perform this weekend on the Farm will be a solid litmus test as to how they may fare in the NCAA Tournament, which is scheduled for May 10-12 in Boston.
John Speraw, Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball team is currently riding a six-match winning streak that includes an upset of No. 2 UC-Irvine in the most recent outing. The Bruins, led by first-year head coach and three-time national champion John Speraw, have compiled a 17-9 record overall (13-7 MPSF) with four regular season matches remaining. After the MPSF conference tournament, UCLA has the distinct advantage of hosting the NCAA Tournament at Pauley Pavilion.
But there’s a catch—only four teams are invited to compete for the national title. If Speraw and the Bruins hope to make the field at their home stadium, they will need to close the season strong and make a nice run in the conference tournament. Assuming that happens, UCLA is in a good position to compete for the program’s 20th national championship. The Bruins last claimed the crown in 2006.
Much like the men’s volleyball team, the No. 6 UCLA gymnastics squad has a chance to contend for a national title on its home floor at Pauley Pavilion. However, they need to get through NCAA Regionals first. With an overall record of 16-5 and a recent second-place finish in the Pac-12 Championships, the Bruins are set to travel to Columbus, Ohio for their qualifiers this Saturday.
UCLA enters the regional as the No. 1 seed, but will compete against the likes of No. 7 LSU, No. 18 Arizona and No. 20 Ohio State (playing host to the meet) for the automatic berth. If the Bruins can make it through, they would begin NCAA competition on April 19 in Westwood. Under the direction of 23rd-year head coach Valorie Kondos Fields, UCLA has won four national championships, as well as 12 conference titles. This season, the Bruins are looking to win it all for the first time since 2010, and doing so on the mats at Pauley would be a major bonus.
If there’s any sport that UCLA is on track to claim No. 109 in, it would be tennis. Both groups of Bruins are ranked in the Top 10 nationally, with the men checking in at No. 2 and the women not far behind at No. 9. The UCLA men are 16-1 overall, and have won seven straight matches. Meanwhile, the women are 13-4, but have dropped two consecutive home matches to lower-ranked opponents.
With less than a month until the Pac-12 Championships, the UCLA men are looking to keep pace with the top-ranked Virginia Cavaliers, while the women are hoping to get back to their winnings ways. Both NCAA national title tournaments for tennis will take place in Champaign, Ill. in the middle of May. Combined, the UCLA tennis program has claimed 17 national championships, though the women’s only title is the most recent (2008). The Bruin men have plenty of motivation to end their drought, as hated-rival Southern Cal has claimed the last four crowns. Here’s to hoping any other school, if not UCLA, takes the cake in 2013.
Track and Field
UCLA discus thrower Julian Wruck, Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
With the indoor track and field season in the books, the outdoor season is just kicking into full gear. Both UCLA squads are ranked in the Top 25, with the men sitting at No. 12 and the women at No. 18. The story of the season for the Bruins has been discus thrower Julian Wruck.
The junior has earned consecutive Pac-12 Athlete of the Week honors after breaking his own school record in the discus. But he isn’t just the best thrower in UCLA history. In fact, Wruck’s mark of 66.01 meters is the furthest toss in the world so far in 2013. Needless to say, that’s extremely impressive, and reason to be optimistic for the Bruins’ chances this season. UCLA is in action this weekend as host of the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational, which features Texas Christian and LSU. The Tigers are ranked in the Top 10 in both the men’s and women’s polls, so it should be a great event this year.
Though the women’s volleyball team lays claim to the most recent UCLA national title, the women’s golf team has the second most recent with its 2011 championship. And this season, the Bruins look like they could be on their way to another one. In their last outing, the No. 7 UCLA women tied a school record with a 12-under par performance at the Anuenue Spring Break Classic. The Bruins notched 25 birdies to secure the record-tying win, which sets them up nicely with the Pac-12 Championship about two weeks away.
For the UCLA men, the 2013 season has also been a major success thus far. Ranked No. 5 in the country, the Bruins have finished first three times in the team standings and five times individually. They also own 21 finishes in the top 10 at their various events, which is about as consistent as can be. UCLA will play host to the men’s Pac-12 Championship at the Los Angeles Country Club later this month. If the Bruins play well in the stacked conference tournament, they could find themselves in the championship field next month.
After starting the year 18-2, the No. 15 UCLA softball team has slipped mightily of late, dropping seven of its last eight games. The Bruins (25-11, 2-7 Pac-12) are in dire need of a turnaround with about a month left in the regular season. Offense appears to be the primary issue with this year’s softball squad, as UCLA has only scored four runs in the last four games (three of which were shutout losses).
It’s not a coincidence that the Bruins’ downturn paralleled the end of the non-conference slate, as the Pac-12 is extremely deep with eight teams ranked in the Top 25. But that doesn’t make the losing streak any less disappointing. Historically, the UCLA softball program has been a national powerhouse, owning 11 national titles. The most recent time the Bruins won it all was in 2010, but it doesn’t look they’ll bring home No. 12 in 2013.