[PREVIEW: Pac-12 Women] In its ninth trip to the Women's College Cup, UCLA finally won its first national championship, and there is nothing to indicate the Bruins, ranked No. 1 in the Soccer America Preseason Women's Top 25, can't make it two in a row. They return 10 starters who form one of the deepest teams ever assembled in the women's game. For a look at the Pac-12.
For her work in her first season in Westwood, Amanda Cromwellwas rewarded with a contract extension. The Soccer America Women's Coach of the Year had previously coached at UCF and wasn't hired until April 2013 after B.J. Snow joined U.S. Soccer, which meant she had little time to work with the team in the offseason.
But UCLA got better as the 2013 season progressed, beating top-ranked Florida State, 1-0, in overtime in the College Cup final and completing a run that included a 1-0 overtime win on the road over defending champion North Carolina in the quarterfinals and a shootout win over Virginia in the semifinals.
Perhaps the sweetest win came in the round of 16 as UCLA, which had been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Stanford three of the last four seasons, turned the tables on its Pac-12 rival with a 2-0 win. The loss ended the Cardinal’s bid for a sixth consecutive appearance in the Women's College Cup.
Four UCLA players were named 2014 Soccer America Preseason Women's All-Americans:
goalie Katelyn Rowland, defender Abby Dahlkemper and midfielders Sarah Killion and Sam Mewis.
The Bruins, who open Friday against Maryland, also return defenders Ally Courtnall, the daughter of former NFL star Russ Courtnall who terrorized opponents in the postseason with her runs out of the back, and Caprice Dydasco as well as Darian Jenkins, one of the top freshmen in 2013, and Taylor Smith up front.
UCLA was selected for the second straight year as the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 title, receiving 11 of 12 first-place votes. Stanford, which earned the other first place vote, finished second in the poll.
The Cardinal, ranked seventh in the Soccer America preseason rankings, returns nine starters from last year’s team that finished with a 15-6-1 record. The six losses were two more than it had for the previous four seasons combined.
Lo'eau LaBonta, Taylor Uhl and Chioma Ubogagu give the Cardinal plenty of attacking threats. On defense, goalie Jane Campbelland defenders Maddie Bauer, Laura Liedle and Stephanie Amack all spent time with the U.S. U-20 national team in 2014. Midfielder Andi Sullivan, a U.S. U-20 co-captain, heads one of the nation's top freshman classes that will be quickly tested. Stanford opens against No. 4 North Carolina and No. 10 Duke in Chapel Hill.
Despite losing more than half its starters, California, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 10th consecutive time last season, was again No. 3 in the Pac-12 poll. “When it boils down to it," says Bears head coach Neil McGuire, "there’s a lot of talent top to bottom in this program and we’ll just have to do our best in every match.”
The big offseason move involves Keidane McAlpine, the 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year who left Washington State for USC, the No. 4 team in the Pac-12 poll. McAlpine led the Cougars, picked at 10th in the 2014 preseason poll, to second place overall.
Colorado rounds out the top five. Third-year coach Danny Sanchez says the Buffaloes will have better depth than it had in 2013 when they reached the round of 16 in the NCAA Women's Tournament for only the second time.
Washington State, now coached by Steve Nugent, and Utah, which both made the 2013 NCAA Tournament, follow at sixth and seventh. Arizona State and Washington are tied for eighth, and Arizona is 10th, Oregon 11th and Oregon State 12th.