Meet UCLA’s Margueritte Aozasa and USC’s Jane Alukonis, the brand new soccer coaches on the town

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2022-08-24 23:01:43

Margueritte Aozasa was launched to the UCLAUSC rivalry lengthy earlier than she coached her first aggressive soccer recreation for the Bruins.

“I bought my first style of it final spring after we performed the Trojans in a spring scrimmage,” stated Aozasa, who had spent the earlier seven seasons as an assistant at Stanford. “I had by no means skilled one thing like that. The entire thing was electrical.”

Jane Alukonis was in entrance of the USC bench that day and for her the rivalry wasn’t new, however the viewpoint was. Alukonis was a UCLA assistant for 4 seasons earlier than changing into head coach at USC in January.

“It’s bizarre and distinctive, understanding what it seems like being on the Bruins’ facet of that, the place SC was not a workforce you wished to face ever,” she stated. “It’s additionally bizarre understanding all of the gamers on the opposite workforce.”

Girls’s soccer got here to each campuses in 1993 however by no means earlier than have USC and sixth-ranked UCLA each welcomed new head coaches in the identical season, with Aozasa changing Amanda Cromwell in Westwood and Alukonis taking up for Keidane McAlpine at USC.

Each have massive cleats to fill: Cromwell gained UCLA’s solely NCAA title in her first season, then made the semifinals two extra instances over the following 5 years whereas McAlpine gained a nationwide title in his third 12 months, a part of a streak throughout which the Trojans made eight consecutive event appearances.

“Can we proceed the success of USC and UCLA?” Aozasa requested. “The repute of the faculties proper now’s going to precede any repute of myself and Jane. However I do really feel there’s an expectation on us to take care of that.”

They’re not the one coaches dealing with nice expectations. Tim Ward, whose 281 victories make him the second-winningest Division I coach in Southern California behind Cal Poly’s Alex Crozier, has led No. 14 Pepperdine to twenty successful seasons in 24 tries, taking the Waves to the ultimate 16 of the NCAA event for the fourth time final fall. And UC Irvine, the reigning Large West champion, is seeking to get again to the NCAA event after upsetting UCLA within the first spherical a 12 months in the past. The Anteaters opened with two preseason shutouts and two regular-season shutouts, together with a 1-0 win over Cal, earlier than dropping to Cal State Fullerton.

However the greatest packages are at UCLA and USC, whose groups have mixed for 3 nationwide titles, seven appearances within the championship recreation and 45 journeys to the NCAA event in 25 years.

“Can we proceed the success of USC and UCLA? … I do really feel there’s an expectation on us to take care of that.”

— UCLA ladies’s soccer coach Margueritte Aozasa

“Each single day I come to work, on daily basis we’re out on the sector, I’ve that obligation to verify I comply with in these footsteps,” stated Aozasa, whose Bruins, the two-time defending Pac-12 champions, opened with a preseason win over Fresno State, a victory over Iowa and a 6-0 romp over Cal State Northridge. “So yeah, there’s somewhat strain. However it’s not one thing I didn’t assume.”

Aozasa, who grew up in Mountain View and performed at Santa Clara, was a prime youth soccer coach for a decade and is aware of the California market effectively — a giant purpose why she excelled as a recruiter at Stanford, together with her last class, the one she left behind, rating No. 2 within the nation.

That made the transfer to UCLA, a workforce with 26 Californians on the roster, a bit simpler.

“Most of those gamers I’ve some historical past with,” she stated. “I believe the workforce was receptive from Day 1. There’s been somewhat give and take when it comes to determining how we’re all going to work effectively collectively. However I believe the transition has been as easy as I may have requested for.”

That transition was arguably made simpler by the return of goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy, who allowed simply 11 targets in 20 video games final season. She is one among two Bruins, alongside sophomore defender Lilly Reale, named to the watch record for the Hermann Trophy, soccer’s model of the Heisman. However maybe the best-known participant is junior ahead Reilyn Turner, who ranked second on the workforce with 10 targets final season. In December, Turner grew to become the primary school athlete to signal an NIL contract with Nike.

Jane Alukonis was a UCLA assistant for 4 seasons earlier than changing into head coach at USC in January.

(Jenny Chuang / USC Athletics)

Final December can be when Alukonis’ crosstown transfer from UCLA to USC went from unplanned to mandatory following Cromwell’s departure for the NWSL’s Orlando Pleasure.

“I didn’t also have a resume. I purchased a spot near UCLA considering I used to be going to be there for one more 5 years at the least,” she stated. “However as soon as all that occurred, I began to go searching.”

She began with UCLA, however rapidly decided she wasn’t going to get the job there. So when McAlpine left USC the identical week, she utilized.

“The entire particular person comes first. There’s no method to construct the connection and get the perfect out of athletes if you happen to solely view them as athletes.”

— USC ladies’s soccer coach Jane Alukonis

“It type of felt like each faculties had been hitting the reset and [were] type of in the identical situations, the place you’re going to construct somewhat little bit of a brand new identification,” stated Alukonis who, like Aozasa, is a school head coach for the primary time.

That identification is taking longer to type at USC. After scoring 56 targets final season — 10 greater than some other Pac-12 workforce — the No. 15 Trojans opened by failing to attain in a preseason street loss at Pepperdine and regular-season loss to Purdue, falling out of the nationwide rankings. The Trojans (1-1). who additionally beat Lengthy Seaside State 1-0 will play the primary dwelling match of the Alukonis period Sept. 1 in opposition to Texas Christian.

Midfielder Croix Bethune, named the perfect participant within the nation by High Drawer Soccer, scored a team-high 16 of these targets in 2021 and is the one USC participant on the Hermann watch record. (Pepperdine’s Carlee Giammona, Tori Waldeck and Trinity Watson are additionally Hermann Trophy candidates.)

Succeeding McAlpine includes extra than simply making an attempt to match his document on the sector, nonetheless. The coach additionally guided the workforce by means of a tumultuous interval that included the COVID-19 lockdowns and the emotion of the Black Lives Matter motion by main workforce conferences that always resulted in hugs and tears. Alukonis, who stated many of the non-public conversations she has with gamers don’t have anything to do with soccer, hopes to comply with that lead.

“The entire particular person comes first,” stated Alukonis, the primary girl to run the USC program since Karen Stanley in 1995. “There’s no method to construct the connection and get the perfect out of athletes if you happen to solely view them as athletes.

“They’re student-athletes and have a great deal of duty. To get to know them and perceive them as folks is extraordinarily necessary.”

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