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No. 3 UCLA overcomes injuries in time for NCAA title chase

Posted: Fri November 19, 1999 at 2:18 p.m. EST

Daily Bruin

Los Angeles, California (U-WIRE) -- In years past, when the UCLA men's soccer team neared the NCAA tournament it was a sign for nurses to start getting hospital beds warm.

But for this year's playoffs, no Bruin player is checked into a hospital, no one is walking around on crutches, and no one is limping.

For the first time in three years, a UCLA men's soccer team will enter postseason play completely healthy when the No. 3 Bruins (16-2) face the No. 12 San Diego Toreros (14-3) in the first round of the NCAA tournament this Sunday.

"Every year we have always said, 'God, I wish he wasn't hurt' or 'Geez, I wish so and so wasn't hurt,'" said forward Sasha Victorine. "But this year we have everybody healthy. There are no excuses for us not to do well."

In each of the last two postseasons the Bruins did not have everyone available, including Victorine and Pete Vagenas in the team's 1997 title run. The 1999 season seemed headed for the same fate with a host of regular season injuries.

First, starting defender Ryan Lee suffered a groin injury in the preseason. Then Player of the Year candidate Carlos Bocanegra hurt his knee. Just two weeks later, starters McKinley Tennyson Jr. and Shaun Tsakiris went down because of illnesses.

"I was concerned when people were injured and sick," UCLA head coach Todd Saldana said, "but I always felt it was early enough in the season that they would come back at a time when it would be a big boost to us at the end of the year."

Saldana's words proved to be prophetic since the Bruins now have everyone healthy going into the first round of the playoffs. He also feels this season's injuries have created a very deep Bruin team, as several players have seen action they normally wouldn't have seen.

"We've got to be a difficult team to scout or get a beat on this year because we've played a lot of different people," Saldana said.

Sunday's game will mark the first time since Oct. 8 that all 21 players on the roster will be available to play.

Lee points to his head coach as the reason everyone is ready for the tournament.

"I think Todd has done a great job this year with taking care of the guys with injuries," said Lee. "He has given them a lot of rest and not rushed anyone back."

And just in time, as the team looks primed for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

"As everybody knows, the playoffs are knock-down, drag-out matches and you need your full roster to get through five games without a loss," Saldana said. "With everyone healthy we have great options right now that we haven't had in prior years."

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