I reckon that UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero is, on the whole, pleased with how the 2013-14 school year went for his department, what with winning their 110th and 111th NCAA championships, which continues to lead the nation.
As has been the case in recent years, the Bruin females led the way in winning national titles as the women’s soccer team claimed their rings on December 8 with an epic 1-0 win over Florida State in the finals of the College Cup, Kodi Lavrusky scoring the golden goal and securing the team’s first championship after coming close so many times.
The women’s tennis team joined their soccer counterparts on May 20th when those Lady Bruins triumphed over North Carolina on May 20, winning that title match four games to three. It was the second NCAA title for their program.
Those two teams definitely deserve a humongous eight-clap from Bruin Nation; I, for one, am certainly happy for any team that wears blue and gold and the four letters U, C, L, and A that wins a national championship.
However, as far what I consider the best story to come out of the Morgan Center in Westwood this year, there was one thing that eclipsed those triumphs and the men’s basketball team winning the Pac-12 Tournament under new coach Steve Alford – which will be revealed a little later.
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For now, in the grand tradition of not being able to have a best without a worst…
The women’s volleyball team has definitely fallen on bad times, losing 12 of their last 17 matches to finish with a 6-14 record in the Pac-12 (good for 10th place) and barely managing to finish .500 overall, which is absolutely unacceptable for a program with the history that those Bruin volleyballers have.
Someone must have had a voodoo doll of a UCLA women’s basketball player that was poked with needles often, because that team suffered an overwhelming rash of injuries that led to a 13-18 mark and an eighth place finish in the Pac-12 at 7-11; that’s why although it wasn’t a good season by any means, I’m willing to give them a pass.
One team eclipsed them both as far as disappointment and futility, by a long way…
Coach: John Savage
Record: 25-30-1, 12-18 and 9th place in the Pac-12
* Losing ten straight and 11 of their last 13 games in a total collapse.
Mar 23, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins mascot Joe Bruin performs in the second half of a men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament match vs Stephen F. Austin
* Getting swept by USC at home, including blowing a 4-0 lead in the 9th inning of the third game by allowing the Trojans to score seven runs.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a UCLA team win a national championship one year and not only miss the postseason the next, but completely tank in the process.
While it was true that their two best pitchers from 2013, Adam Plutko and Nick VanderTuig, were now pitching in the minors and their two best position players, Eric Filia and Kevin Kramer, were forced to sit out all of 2014 with injuries, the mark of a truly great team is being able to withstand that.
Which these Bruins weren’t able to do as they became the latest epitome of a “One-Hit Wonder”, particularly after participating in the College World Series in Omaha, NE three out of the previous four years and winning their first title 12 months ago.
No one, least of all me, is calling for any kind of house cleaning or putting coach Savage on the hot seat; you don’t do that to a team and a coach that has reached heights never before seen in the UCLA baseball program.
But I’m sure everyone will agree with me when I say that this folly of a season had better be a one-year aberration.
All right, enough with the bad memories. Let’s commence with the best thing that happened in Westwood in 2013-14:
Coach: Jim Mora
Record: 10-3, 6-3 and 2nd place in the Pac-12 South
Final Rankings: #16 in the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls, #17 in the BCS
* Beating USC for the second straight season, 35-14, the largest margin of victory over the Trojans since 1970 and their first win at the Coliseum since 1997, breaking a 16-year, seven-game losing streak in that stadium.
* Beating Virginia Tech, 42-12, in the Sun Bowl on December 31.
* Quarterback Brett Hundley having another outstanding season and announcing that he will skip the NFL Draft and return to UCLA in 2014, setting up a potential Heisman Award-winning campaign.
* Linebacker Anthony Barr winning Consensus All-American honors and the Lott IMPACT Award, being the first Bruin chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft since Cade McNown in 1999 and, being the ninth pick overall, the highest Bruin taken since Jonathan Ogden (#4) in 1996.
As I had stated in my review of this team in January, the best description of their 2013 season is “Exceeded Expectations”.
That’s why this program gets my “Best of 2013-14” award.
People thought that it would be a bit of a rough go for these Bruins due to the schedule makers sending them to the three-headed monster that is Stanford, Oregon and USC on the road.
While they did stumble in Palo Alto and Eugene and at home against Arizona State, the way that UCLA ended the season in such a dominating fashion over the Trojans and Virginia Tech caused great ecstasy among Bruin fans.
As well as the biggest expectations in program history for these gridironers in 2014; the Bruins are likely to start the season ranked in the top ten and among the favorites for the Pac-12 title.
What’s more, they will be at least in the conversation as to who will be among the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff, which at long last will decide the national championship on the field instead of among a bunch of journalists.
Whether UCLA will reach that level of glory remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain…
2014 will be perhaps the most important season in the history of Bruin football.