Margueritte Aozasa: UCLA's new head coach was prepped well by Stanford, Santa Clara and youth club MVLA

The usual path to a big NCAA Division I head coaching job is through a series of assistant roles, then up the ranks leading smaller programs.

Margueritte Aozasa is not your usual coach.

Last December, the California native succeeded the legendary Amanda Cromwell at the helm of perennial national contender UCLA. It’s her first college head coaching job.

Aozasa was well prepared. She’d spent seven years as a Stanford University assistant, helping the Cardinal to two national championships and five Pac-12 titles, while earning a reputation for recruiting and mentoring two Hermann Trophy and six US women’s national team members.

Aozasa had a proven track record as a head coach at the youth club level, helping lead nationally recognized MVLA Soccer Club for a decade. Her playing credentials were also impressive: four years as a starter and two as captain at Santa Clara University, playing midfielder and center back from 2008 to 2011.

Still, she is quick to acknowledge, “having your first head coaching job at a Top Five contender – that just doesn’t happen.”

Yet it happened in part because Aozasa was always challenged, and challenged herself. Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith played a huge role. “He really challenged all of us,” she explains. “He analyzed your game and told you your weaknesses. But he did it in a very productive way.”

Smith continues to “coach” Aozasa. During the Bruin hiring process, he peppered her with potential interview questions.

Aozasa is grateful that “the elephant in the room” was addressed early by UCLA. “Everyone acknowledged I hadn’t been a college head coach,” she recalls. “Then they moved on. They wanted to know about my vision and who I am as a person, not about not being a head coach before.”

The decision to leave Stanford was not easy. Aozasa grew up in the Bay Area. She chose Santa Clara not because it was nearby, but because it was the best fit. Looking back, she’s glad she stayed close to her family, and continued her association with her club program.

Stanford holds a special place in Aozasa’s heart. She learned a “championship mentality. For better or worse, if we didn’t win a national title we felt like we’d underachieved. I know what it’s like to win, and lose, in the final four.”

She is a different coach now than when she began. Cardinal head coach Paul Ratcliffe showed her how to “keep a level head, be composed, and look at things logically and systematically.”

She was happy at Stanford. But when Cromwell left to become head coach of the NWSL Orlando Pride, friends in her coaching network encouraged her to apply at UCLA. “It was a big leap,” Aozasa admits. “But they gave me the nudge to leave.”

From her first day on campus, she felt supported. Athletic administrators, fellow coaches, players, support staff – all have welcomed her.

Since December, Aozasa has worked to build relationships with her players. She wondered if, after all their success, they would be receptive to change. Through individual and team meetings – and plenty of on-field diagnostics -- she believes she’s earned their trust. They pushed themselves in training and the weight room, and she’s pleased with the way the spring has gone.

Beyond her players, coaching staff, program and the legacy Cromwell left for her, Aozasa feels another responsibility: to the Asian American/Pacific Islander community.

She is one of just five AAPI women serving as head coach of a college soccer team. Growing up, female coaches were rare. AAPI coaches were rarer still.

Visibility and outreach are important, Aozasa says. She repeats the saying: “If see you see it, you can be it,” adding, “I want to represent who I am, nobly and honorably. I want (AAPI) players to feel welcome, so they can go on to become coaches. That’s true with any minority. It’s especially important in a place with such a diverse population as L.A.”

Besides soccer acumen, Aozasa brings wide-ranging academic interests to Westwood. A psychology major at Santa Clara, she notes that “a huge part of my job is managing people. It’s figuring out the roots of their behavior, and how to direct them to a common goal.”

She minored in public health, which informs her knowledge of the importance of mental health in young athletes. And, she laughs, her second minor in Spanish helps her pronounce street names in and around campus.

For the first time in her coaching career, Aozasa is not coaching a club team. “There’s a little bit of FOMO,” she says. But she has plenty to do with that time. She got married in December – the same month she got the UCLA job. She and her husband (a former Santa Clara assistant coach, now working with the LAFC youth academy) are settling into their new home. They’re enjoying the “great energy” of Los Angeles. Living 10 minutes from the beach is an added plus.

There is her first full season to prepare for too. This fall, UCLA plays Santa Clara. What will it be like facing her mentor?

“His competitiveness is out of this world,” Aozasa says. “But I’m pretty competitive, too. All game long, I want him to be pacing up and down the sideline.”

Photos courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

1 comment about "Margueritte Aozasa: UCLA's new head coach was prepped well by Stanford, Santa Clara and youth club MVLA".
  1. R2 Dad, April 26, 2022 at 12:11 a.m.

    Good write-up, thx. Not investigated further is the fact that MVLA on the girls side is the only amateur club in Norcal that plays with a defined style of play at all the youth ages. Opponents know what is coming but still can't defend against their build-from-the-back attack. Almost every other club can't be bothered to do that type of player development.

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