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UNIVERSITY BEAT

UCLA's Past Floats Away

November 28, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Before it could begin another push toward what has become an elusive first NCAA championship, the UCLA women's soccer team had to let go of the past.

Specifically, the Bruins had to cleanse themselves of bitter memories that lingered from an overtime loss on penalty kicks to Texas A&M in a third-round playoff match they dominated last season.

So they enlisted the help of sports psychologist Bruce Hansen.

"I didn't want any detail to be missed," UCLA Coach Jillian Ellis said. "Bruce sensed that the players and coaches included were having a lot of baggage from last year. So he went and got 30 yellow balloons and filled them with helium.

"Each of us got to write whatever comments we wanted. Anything. Most of it was about the Texas A&M game. And then we walked to the center of the field and let go of them. It was about moving on and having this be a new year."

UCLA has top recruiting classes on an annual basis, but it is trying to get back to the women's College Cup -- soccer's version of the Final Four -- for the first time since playing for the title in 2000.

The Bruins (19-1-3) have victories over San Diego, Pepperdine and Kansas in the 2003 playoffs. They play Penn State tonight in the quarterfinals at Drake Stadium.

Ellis said she thinks this team is better than last season's. The defense, led by national player-of-the-year candidate Nandi Pryce as well as Kathryn Lee, has allowed only 16 goals. Sophomore forward Iris Mora leads the Bruins with 12 points and 13 assists. Sophomore midfielder Jill Oakes, the nation's top high school player at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake in 2001-02, has recovered from a serious knee injury suffered in last season's playoff victory over USC.

And then there are steady seniors in forward Sarah-Gayle Swanson and midfielder Whitney Jones, who played in the title-game loss to North Carolina three seasons ago.

"Our yardstick is winning championships," Ellis said. "Our seniors have been so good for us. They were my first recruiting class, and for them it would be a great achievement to get back to the Final Four."

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With an automatic berth in the NCAA men's water polo championships on the line, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament begins today at Belmont Plaza.

By virtue of a goal-differential tiebreaker, USC (19-3) is the top-seeded team and will play UC Santa Barbara. The Trojans finished the regular season with a 7-6 overtime victory over UCLA on Predrag Damjanov's game-winning goal.

UCLA (18-6) and Pepperdine (17-7) play for the fourth time this season. Stanford (19-3) -- which has won 11 consecutive matches -- takes on UC Irvine (12-14) and California (19-6) faces Long Beach State (14-13).

The semifinals are Saturday at 6 and 7:30 p.m. and the championship is Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

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Pepperdine senior Katie Wilkins was selected West Coast Conference player of the year for the third consecutive season in women's volleyball. Wilkins is the first three-time WCC player of the year.... Cal State San Bernardino (28-4) will play host to the NCAA Division II national championships next weekend after defeating Hawaii Pacific to win the Pacific Regional title.... La Verne (29-2) will play host to the Division III women's volleyball championships next weekend. The Leopards were the 2001 national champions.... Westmont won its third consecutive NAIA women's soccer title with a 2-1 victory over Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) on Tuesday night.

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This Week

MEN'S SOCCER

* NCAA playoffs, third round, Florida International at UCLA, 1 p.m. Sunday -- UCLA (19-1-1), the No. 1-seeded team and defending champion, got a severe test in the second round from Tulsa. The Bruins needed a goal by Dru Hoshimiya in the 81st minute for a 3-2 victory. Florida International (14-4-3) survived a tight match with Cal State Northridge by winning, 5-4, in penalty kicks, with Jared Rose netting the winning goal after goalie Roy Rosenberg made a save on the Matadors' Yossi Raz.

* NCAA playoffs, third round, UC Santa Barbara at St. John's, 9 a.m. Sunday -- Santa Barbara (16-4-1) advanced to the final 16 for the first time with a 2-0 victory over California. Senior midfielder Memo Arzate, the Big West Conference co-offensive player of the year, recorded his 18th assist of the season in the victory to tie his school record set last season.

WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL

* No. 9 Georgia Tech at Long Beach State, 7:30 tonight; No. 8 California at Long Beach State, 7:30 p.m. Saturday -- Long Beach (17-9, 12-6) finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Big West Conference, but it may need to notch an upset this weekend to sew up its 17th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. On Tuesday, the 49ers lost in three games to 12th-ranked Colorado State. Georgia Tech (30-2) is having its best season in school history, its losses coming against Maryland.

* Houston at No. 1 USC, 2 p.m., Saturday -- The Trojans (27-0) survived their last test of the regular season with a four-game victory over Cal State Northridge on Tuesday night. A victory would wrap up a No. 1 national seeding for USC when the NCAA tournament pairings are announced Sunday, and the Trojans figure to host the first two rounds and play at the Long Beach Pyramid in the regionals.

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