COLLEGE: Snow era starts at UCLA

B.J. Snow knows well the expectations that exist for UCLA's women's soccer program. Seven straight trips to the NCAA College Cup final four and eight in 10 years created a standard that must be met. No trophies leaves a void that must be filled.

Snow is aware of all of this, and everything else he ought to to know heading into his debut as the Bruins' head coach. He has spent five years in the program, the past two as Jill Ellis' assistant head coach, and his masters in Westwood are expecting a seamless transition.

So is Snow, who contributed to four of those final-four appearances and has at his command the kind of exceptional talent the Bruins always possess, even if they run a little young this year. They've had almost no time to prepare for Friday night's opener at Cal State Northridge, but they're ready for their first test. And Snow is ready for his.

“I've been able to be head coach at UCLA in a number games when Jill was out of town or couldn't be there,” Snow, who also assisted Ellis on occasion with U.S. youth national teams, said Thursday. “It certainly helps me make the transition smoother. But when the clock hits 6:59 and the game is about to start, I'm sure the emotions will be stirred up, that I'll be excited and nervous. If I wasn't, I guess that would be a bad thing.”

Snow has ample pedigree. He starred for two NCAA championship teams under legendary coach Jerry Yeagley at Indiana University and, after joining UCLA as a voluntary assistant in 2006, rapidly evolved into Ellis' right-hand man. He's a rising star in the coaching game, and his first team -- built, of course, with Ellis, who resigned in January to take a player-development post for U.S. Soccer -- has the tools to return to the College Cup after falling short in a difficult campaign last year.

BOUNCING BACK: The Bruins endured an injury epidemic and posted an uncharacteristic 13-8-2 mark, finishing fourth (at 5-4-0) in the Pac-10, suffering three home losses (the first ending a nation's-best 73-game unbeaten streak, dating to 2005) and exiting in the NCAA's round of 16 (with a 3-0 loss to Stanford).

“Last year was an interesting year,” Snow said. “It probably has zero impact on what we're doing now. We have more new players than returning players, and they had nothing to do with what happened last year.

“We did have some injuries. I actually think it was one of our best years last year because of the adversity we had to deal with. From a record standpoint and not getting to the final four was a letdown for most people, but from the inside, what the girls were able to achieve, with all the adversity, we were pretty with the season. Now we'll look to take that momentum and work from it.”

The Bruins, who hope to challenge Stanford in the expanded Pacific 12 Conference, return their biggest star, U.S. national team pool forward Sydney Leroux, an All-American who has scored 41 goals in three seasons and is coming of a superb summer campaign with her hometown Vancouver Whitecaps, a W-League semifinalist.

She might be the best player in the country, although Snow won't say that.

“There are a lot of very good players,” he said. “I think she has the ability to be an impact player. In college soccer, I think she has the ability to make a huge impact, and that she can make an impact in [Women's Professional Soccer]. And she's going to get opportunities with the national team.

“Ultimately, it's the writers and everybody else who make decisions at the end of the day who will decide the best college soccer player. Ask Sydney, and the only thing she cares about is winning. It won't matter to her if she doesn't win awards or isn't an All-American. She wants to leave UCLA with the legacy as the team to win a national championship.

MOSTLY TEENS: U.S. U-20 midfielder Jenna Richmond, one of the best freshmen in the country last year, has returned six weeks earlier than expected following late-season ACL and microfracture surgery in her right knee -- “She's a medical miracle, as far as I'm concerned” -- and youth national team midfielder Zakiya Bywaters and goalkeeper Chante' Sandiford are pivotal returning players.

The Bruins also can count on the best freshman class in the country, featuring 10 national-teamers, led by national No. 1 recruit Samantha Mewis, top backline recruit Abby Dahlkemper and full New Zealand national teamer Rosie White.

Snow started eight newcomers in last weekend's exhibition victory over Cal State Bakersfield, and he says the best players will be on the field, regardless of their class.

“The good thing about soccer, on both the men's and women's side, soccer is not a game that knows your age. It doesn't know how old you are,” said Snow, who is married to U.S. national-teamer Lindsay Tarpley. “We're bringing in the right players who can play how we want to play, a very attractive style that's efficient at the same time.”

A rookie team with a rookie coach? That's one way to look at it.

“I don't feel like a rookie, for a number of reasons,” Snow said. “Mostly because I've been here five years, I started in January, and I got a full spring under my belt. This is what I've been preparing for for a really long time.”

OTHER GAMES: Other local Division I women's programs opening their season Friday:

  • USC and Long Beach State, meeting at 3 p.m. at McAllister Park.

  • Cal State Fullerton, at home against Utah at 7 p.m.

  • UC Irvine (against UT San Antonio in College Station, Texas)

  • Loyola Marymount (at Texas)

  • Pepperdine (at Cal)

  • UC Riverside (at UNLV)