Margueritte Aozasa was launched to the UCLA-USC rivalry lengthy earlier than she coached her first aggressive soccer recreation for the Bruins.
“I got my first taste of it last spring when we played the Trojans in a spring scrimmage,” stated Aozasa, who had spent the earlier seven seasons as an assistant at Stanford. “I had never experienced something like that. The whole thing was electric.”
Jane Alukonis was in entrance of the USC bench that day and for her the rivalry wasn’t new, however the viewpoint was. Alukonis was a UCLA assistant for 4 seasons earlier than turning into head coach at USC in January.
“It is weird and unique, knowing what it feels like being on the Bruins’ side of that, where SC was not a team you wanted to face ever,” she stated.
Ladies’s soccer got here to each campuses in 1993 however by no means earlier than have USC and sixth-ranked UCLA each welcomed new head coaches in the identical season, with Aozasa changing Amanda Cromwell in Westwood and Alukonis taking up for Keidane McAlpine at USC.
Each have large cleats to fill: Cromwell received UCLA’s solely NCAA title in her first season, then made the semifinals two extra instances over the following 5 years whereas McAlpine received a nationwide title in his third 12 months, a part of a streak throughout which the Trojans made eight consecutive match appearances.
“Can we continue the success of USC and UCLA?” Aozasa requested. “The reputation of the schools right now is going to precede any reputation of myself and Jane. But I do feel there’s an expectation on us to maintain that.”
They’re not the one coaches going through nice expectations. Tim Ward, whose 281 victories make him the second-winningest Division I coach in Southern California behind Cal Poly’s Alex Crozier, has led No. 14 Pepperdine to twenty successful seasons in 24 tries, taking the Waves to the ultimate 16 of the NCAA match for the fourth time final fall. And UC Irvine, the reigning Large West champion, is trying to get again to the NCAA match after upsetting UCLA within the first spherical a 12 months in the past. The Anteaters opened their season with 4 shutouts, together with a 1-0 win over Cal.
However the greatest applications are at UCLA and USC, whose groups have mixed for 3 nationwide titles, seven appearances within the championship recreation and 45 journeys to the NCAA match in 25 years.
“Can we continue the success of USC and UCLA? … I do feel there’s an expectation on us to maintain that.”
— UCLA ladies’s soccer coach Margueritte Aozasa
“Every single day I come to work, every day we are out on the field, I have that duty to make sure I follow in those footsteps,” stated Aozasa, whose Bruins, the two-time defending Pac-12 champions, opened the season with wins over Fresno State and Iowa and can host Cal State Northridge on Thursday. “So yeah, there’s a little pressure. But it’s not something I didn’t assume.”
Aozasa who grew up in Mountain View and performed at Santa Clara, was a prime youth soccer coach for a decade and is aware of the California market properly — a giant motive why she excelled as a recruiter at Stanford, together with her closing class, the one she left behind, rating No. 2 within the nation.
That made the transfer to UCLA, a crew with 26 Californians on the roster, a bit simpler.
“Most of these players I have some history with,” she stated. “I think the team was receptive from Day 1. There’s been a little give and take in terms of figuring out how we’re all going to work well together. But I think the transition has been as smooth as I could have asked for.”
That transition was arguably made simpler by the return of goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy, who allowed simply 11 objectives in 20 video games final season. She is considered one of two Bruins, alongside sophomore defender Lilly Reale, named to the watch listing for the Hermann Trophy, soccer’s model of the Heisman. However maybe the best-known participant is junior ahead Reilyn Turner, who ranked second on the crew with 10 objectives final season. In December, Turner grew to become the primary faculty athlete to signal an NIL contract with Nike.
Final December can be when Alukonis’ crosstown transfer from UCLA to USC went from unplanned to mandatory following Cromwell’s departure for the NWSL’s Orlando Satisfaction.
“I didn’t even have a resume. I bought a place close to UCLA thinking I was going to be there for another five years at least,” she stated. “But once all that happened, I started to look around.”
She began with UCLA, however shortly decided she wasn’t going to get the job there. So when McAlpine left USC the identical week, she utilized.
“The whole person comes first. There’s no way to build the relationship and get the best out of athletes if you only view them as athletes.”
— USC ladies’s soccer coach Jane Alukonis
“It kind of felt like both schools were hitting the reset and [were] kind of in the same scenarios, where you’re going to build a little bit of a new identity,” stated Alukonis who, like Aozasa, is a school head coach for the primary time.
That identification is taking longer to kind at USC. After scoring 56 objectives final season — 10 greater than some other Pac-12 crew — the No. 15 Trojans opened this season by failing to attain in street losses at Pepperdine and Purdue, falling out of the nationwide rankings. The Trojans (1-2) will play the primary dwelling match of the Alukonis period Sept. 1 in opposition to Texas Christian.
Midfielder Croix Bethune, named the most effective participant within the nation by High Drawer Soccer, scored a team-high 16 of these objectives in 2021 and is the one USC participant on the Hermann watch listing. (Pepperdine’s Carlee Giammona, Tori Waldeck and Trinity Watson are additionally Hermann Trophy candidates.)
Succeeding McAlpine entails extra than simply making an attempt to match his document on the sector, nevertheless. The coach additionally guided the crew via a tumultuous interval that included the COVID-19 lockdowns and the emotion of the Black Lives Matter motion by main crew conferences that usually resulted in hugs and tears. Alukonis, who stated many of the personal conversations she has with gamers don’t have anything to do with soccer, hopes to comply with that lead.
“The whole person comes first,” stated Alukonis, the primary lady to run the USC program since Karen Stanley in 1995. “There’s no way to build the relationship and get the best out of athletes if you only view them as athletes.
“They’re student-athletes and have loads of responsibility. To get to know them and understand them as people is extremely important.”