The trophies remain. They glimmer behind thick glass, lining the walls of UCLA’s Hall of Fame. The feeling of winning them has long faded, the high of hoisting a national championship trophy having dissipated into just a memory.
UCLA is thirsting for that feeling again.
The Bruins failed to claim a single national championship last year for the first time since the 2001-02 school year, allowing Stanford to move into a tie for first place in the country with 113 NCAA titles. UCLA has two chances to end the drought this weekend with the men’s water polo and women’s soccer teams both participating in their respective sports’ national semifinals.
“There’s something so special about that feeling and that’s what’s so special about this athletic department,” said men’s water polo coach Adam Wright, who has helped put five of those trophies in UCLA’s Hall of Fame. “That feeling is prevalent so much that it’s addicting.”
Wright, who won two championships as a player and one as an assistant coach with the women’s team, was the last head coach to bring a national championship back to Westwood as the men’s water polo team won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.
It’s been a long two years since then.
Wright led the Bruins to an NCAA-record 57-game winning streak that stretched across two seasons, but it ended last year. UCLA, despite its senior-laden roster, didn’t even advance to the championship match.
Then the roster turned over. He brought in a large freshman class. It looked, from the outside, like it might be a rebuilding year for the Bruins. Wright recoils at the thought.
“At a program like we have here, the second-place trophies, they sit in an office,” Wright said. “That’s not a discredit to those teams, but that’s the way it is here. Our goal every year is to give ourselves a chance to be the best. And that’s what we’ve done.”
The women’s soccer team is also a young squad on the cusp of a national championship. The Bruins start eight underclassmen, including four freshmen. Yet the inexperienced team has dominated in close games, going 7-2 in one-goal contests.
Redshirt sophomore Anika Rodriguez has scored two game-winning goals in the NCAA tournament, sending the Bruins past Northwestern in the second round with a golden goal in overtime and then scoring in the 89th minute against Virginia in the Sweet 16.
The team’s ability to survive close matches is a testament to its mantra “undefeated…