When the USC and UCLA women's soccer teams arrived at McAlister Field yesterday for their annual rivalry game, they were two teams going in completely different directions.
UCLA has built a top-contending team that entered the game ranked No. 2 in the nation. Though they were on the losing side of a thriller against top-ranked Stanford a few days earlier, the team still had a 15-1-2 record and a talented team led by US national team hopeful Zakiya Bywaters, who has scored 13 goals this season. UCLA has appeared in the Women's College Cup eight times in the last twelve years, but has never won an NCAA title. As they await news of their first NCAA tournament opponent on Monday, they are confident that this will be the year they finally win it all.
As for the Trojans, who are now five years removed from winning the program's first national title, they find themselves struggling to return to prominence over the last couple of seasons. This season has proven to be particularly painful for Trojan Futbol, as they entered the game with a 5-10-3 record and 2-6-2 in the Pac-12. In addition, the team played a record eight overtime games, and went 1-4-3 in those games. Combine this with a grand total of one goal scored in the last six games leading up to this rivalry, and you have a very frustrated USC squad. With their hopes for a tournament spot long gone, USC entered the rivalry game simply looking to end things on a high note with an improbable upset.
And amazingly, that's just what they got. In a fast-paced matchup that saw two goals in the final seconds of the period, USC ended the season with a 3-2 upset win over UCLA in overtime. It is USC Athletics' third head-to-head victory over UCLA this season, adding to the men's water polo and women's volleyball wins in September.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, as both teams' defenses were forced to stand tall in the face of hard attacks. In the 42nd minute, UCLA got on the board first when Bywaters took a pass up the middle and streaked towards the net, knocking the ball past USC keeper Caroline Stanley for the goal.
In the second half, USC staged a comeback effort. At 54:44, junior Haley Boysen caught a rebound off a block from UCLA keeper Katelyn Rowland and knocked it in to tie the game. Then, with ten minutes left in the game, senior Samantha Johnson made her final game for USC a memorable one as she fired a shot just inside the box into the corner of the net, giving USC a 2-1 lead.
From that point on, UCLA picked up the pace, unleashing a relentless assault on the SC defense that kept the ball in USC's third of the field and earned corner after corner for the Bruins. Finally, with 90 seconds left, UCLA junior Jenna Richmond sent a pass that found Samantha Mewis, who bounced in the goal that would send USC to their ninth overtime period.
But after weeks of frustration in extra time, including a disallowed goal that would have given them an upset win over Stanford last week, USC would not accept defeat. In the final ten seconds of the first overtime period, USC got a throw in on UCLA's third of the field. With time winding down, freshman Marlee Carrillo launched a deep throw that got bounced off a header to the feet of junior Jordan Mirada. With four seconds left, Mirada launched the shot past Rowland, giving USC the upset victory.
USC closes the season with a 6-10-3 (3-6-2) record and an 8th place finish in the PAC-12, with Johnson and Marada as the top scorers with five goals on the season. UCLA heads towards the postseason with a record of 15-2-2 (8-2-1), good for second place in the conference. Bywaters finishes as the top scorer in the PAC-12 with 13 goals. Though UCLA will drop a couple of spots in the national rankings, they will still be in strong consideration for one of the top regional seeds in the tournament. The NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament begins on Friday, with the national championship game held in San Diego on Dec. 2.
The Bruins and Trojans will cross paths again in two weeks in a rivalry doubleheader, starting with the men's water polo in their regular season finale, followed by the big football game at the Rose Bowl.
Men's Water Polo: NorCal Tournament Finals -- USC 7-6
Women's Volleyball: 9/19 -- USC 28-26, 25-20, 24-26, 25-17
Women's Cross Country: Pac-12 Championships -- UCLA 6th, USC 10th