Breaking down the numbers behind No. 1 UCLA women's soccer's perfect 11-0 start
Midway through the women's college soccer season, there's no doubt who the best team in the country is.
At 11-0, UCLA is the only Division I squad to win all of its games and is holding down the No. 1 spot in both major polls, plus the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) metric.
What's fueled the hot start? Here are some key numbers to know as the Bruins prepare to host the Arizona schools this weekend.
The Bruins have scored 35 goals, tied with Colorado for the most in the Pac-12 and fifth-most in the country. UCLA has tallied 12 goals in league play, the most in the conference.
Sunshine Fontes is the headliner, leading the Bruins with eight goals, tied for the fifth-most in the conference. Her striking ability has gone viral several times this season.
"She strikes the ball harder than I would say 98 percent of people in the country, guys and girls alike," said first-year head coach Margueritte Aozasa. "She strikes the ball so well, so clean. Right foot and left foot. But she can also bend it. She has incredible placement. One of our goals as a staff is just how can we get her closer to the ball? What can we do both in our style and our system to keep Sunshine within 25 yards to goal all the time?"
connects on the free kick against the new Duck goalkeeper Julia Richards to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
— UCLA Women's Soccer (@UCLAWSoccer) September 30, 2022
While the Bruins' roster is always teeming with talent, they know it takes a team effort to showcase it. Twelve different players have scored this season and 14 have recorded at least one assist.
"We like to move the ball to create isolations or move the ball to create moments for that individual creativity and freedom," Aosaza said. "But we know that we can't have that individual creativity and freedom if we don't first establish a rhythm."
That's how many goals the Bruins have conceded. It's the fewest in the Pac-12, but still too many for Aozasa's liking.
"I'm bummed about all six," she said.
The Bruins pride themselves on defending the dribble, executing their roles in their collective defensive scheme and, as Aozasa put it, "being so difficult to play against that people are scared of them even when they don't have the ball."
"If we win it in a good spot, we can beat you with one pass," she explained. "We've had a couple of goals like that this year. ... We also just want to be a pest to play. We want players or teams to feel the pressure of having the ball when we're defending."
Even if a team manages to break the Bruins' backline, they still have to sneak a shot past Lauren Brzykcy. Good luck. The 5-foot-11 keeper has the top goals-against average (0.63) and third-best save percentage (.813) in the Pac-12.
Brzykcy has earned Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week honors three times this season and eight for her career, tied for the most Pac-12 history.
"Her shot stopping ability is out of this world," Aozasa said. "She's so powerful and so explosive. She makes the goal seem so small because her range is really great. She's also been great on service. Anytime there's a ball in the box, she's playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of reassurance back there. And then her leadership. She has so much experience. In big games, any time we've looked shaky, she's been the one to make a big save and turn the momentum our way again."
No better example of that than when Brzykcy made 13 saves to help the Bruins defeat Duke and North Carolina — both by a score of 2-1 — on their home fields during the non-conference season. They were the top-ranked teams in the country at the time.
— UCLA Women's Soccer (@UCLAWSoccer) September 4, 2022
Aozasa entered that road trip curious to see how good her team actually was. It was their first test against ranked opponents. The victories not only vaulted them to the top of the polls but also highlighted areas in need of improvement, particularly offensively.
A month later, Aozasa says they're a better team.
"That weekend showed us those principles of defending and how we can be a dangerous team even when we don't have the ball, how we can be successful when players are working for something more than just themselves," she said.
Believe it or not, this is Aozasa's first year as a collegiate head coach. She was previously an assistant at Stanford for seven seasons, helping the Cardinal capture two national championships and five Pac-12 titles.
Before that, she was the head coach of one of the top club teams in the country for a decade.
Both experiences, she said, prepared her equally for her new chapter at UCLA.
"I would say at both levels, college and club, you're really balancing results and player development," she said. "And while in college the emphasis is more on results, I think one thing as a staff we've embraced is also the emphasis on player development."
The wins are already piling up fast, but Aozasa said being a head coach isn't as easy as she's made it look. She praised her players for buying in and playing with a collective joy that makes them fun to coach.
When she was hired, her goal was to continue UCLA's championship culture while also putting her own stamp on the program.
So far, so good.
"As an assistant, every single thing you say is a suggestion. As a head coach, everyone gives you their suggestion and then you have to make the decision. That's the biggest difference," Aozasa said.
"The other thing is just it's a lot of management. For every decision I make, I know that there's going to be a ripple effect, and that I need to proactively address those ripples before I make the decision or before we make the decision public. That's something as a staff we've really tried to do. We've tried to be very compassionate. We try to be very respectful of our players, so that if they fall on either side of a decision — positive or negative — we take into account how that's going to make them feel and to give them some insight to help them process it."
We sat down with the first-year head coach to learn about her journey to Westwood. ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/UJ1IR2vDzZ
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 17, 2022
Winners of the last two Pac-12 titles, the Bruins have not lost a conference game since March 26, 2021 when Arizona State outlasted them in overtime. When the teams rematch in Westwood on Thursday, it will mark 559 days since that defeat.
Scouting UCLA as a Stanford assistant at the time, Aozasa still remembers the game-winning goal — a cross from Nicole Douglas that Cori Sullivan tapped in — that spurred the Sun Devils to victory.
"We have so much respect for ASU. I think they're one of the most well-organized teams that we'll play all year," she said. "They have a really distinct style about them and a style that I really enjoy watching. It'll be a great challenge for us for sure."
The Bruins know they have a target on their back as the nation's No. 1 team, but it seems to be working in their favor so far.
"We talk about how, if we are the No. 1 team, we need to worry about our performance first," Aozasa said. "I think in some ways it's made us train even sharper because we feel like we don't have a lot of leeway, like everyone's going to bring their best game."
SUN DEVILS WIN
SUN DEVILS WIN
SUN DEVILS WIN
DOWN GOES NUMBER 3 pic.twitter.com/BZFJoooZ9h
— Sun Devil Soccer (@SunDevilSoccer) March 27, 2021