By Jackie Finlan
UCLA has found itself in uncharted territory in recent memory - with a notch in the loss column during league play. Last Saturday's match underneath the lights belonged to undefeated UC San Diego, which beat the reigning Southern California women's DI college convincingly, 27-5.
"The girls definitely understood how important this game was going into it," UCSD coach Emily Ogata said. "They knew that both teams were undefeated going into the match, and they had all read the RugbyMag.com article prior to the game. UCLA is a good team, and we had a couple of hard losses to them last year, so we knew this was going to be a tough match."
|San Diego prop Kelsey McIlonie tears through UCLA's defense. (Michael Coons photo) |
Ogata's reference to the match preview insinuated that her team knew they were viewed as underdogs. "The girls responded extremely well to the pressure," Ogata added. "They came out with a lot of intensity and were able to maintain their composure."
UCSD's composure was tested early when UCLA put up the first five points of the match. "We went into the game knowing that we would have to defend the breakdown area well, as they run off rucks and have powerful and fast forwards," UCLA coach John Wooler said. "The first 10-15 mins we held our own, made good tackles but needed to launch a couple of attacks. I knew if we could run the ball and open it up, then we could score. And that's what happened."
One of UCLA's flankers left the field with a broken collar bone to join one of the team's captains on the sidelines. It was a turning point, the bad kind, for UCLA, and San Diego made its move.
UCSD's forwards, led by prop Kelsey McIlonie and flanker Heather Jones, launched its attack and saw Mireya Morales get over the line for the tying points, which quickly turned into a 7-5 lead after Jenna Anderson's conversion.
"It was really big for us to have the lead going into halftime," Ogata said. "We knew their flyhalf [Tia Blythe] was very good, so we focused on putting a lot of pressure on her. Other than that, we stuck to our game plan and never let up."
"My goal was to keep it close until the half, then regroup and refocus the team," Wooler said at the break. "The backs were not getting any ball so it was tough to put their backline under any pressure."
Wooler advised his team to clear the rucks quicker and run the ball out to the backs, but his ballcarriers kept running into an unrelenting wall of defense. UCSD dominated the set pieces as well and were able to maintain about 70% of ball possession. All that time on offense allowed Evi Aushenbrucker, Leilani Martin and Anderson score tries in the second half, and Anderson topped it off with a penalty and a conversion to lead the team with 12 points.
"They were a focused team building confidence, and they stopped us playing our game," Wooler reflected on UCSD's victory. "Although we were not at full strength with starters out, they beat us fair and square, and were the better team on the day."
Both head coaches are heading back into practice looking to tweak the little things, but neither plan on deviating from the strategies that have otherwise proven successful.
"San Diego are peaking at the right time, and they have got a solid group of experienced players now," Wooler added, "and they are well coached. This was my first league loss in two seasons, so if I had to lose a game, at least I lost to a team that deserved the win."
The rematch occurs in two weeks time, and if UCLA loses again, the SoCal title will go to San Diego. Fortunately for the two teams, So Cal has two bids to DI Nationals this year, a tournament that UCSD last attended in 2005.