There aren’t too many new names in the UCLA women’s soccer starting lineup this season, but Darian Jenkins is one that collegiate soccer fans should get acquainted with quickly.
The freshman forward from Riverton, Utah, has made an immediate impact for the Bruins, scoring in each of UCLA’s first four games, including the game-winning tally against No. 7 Notre Dame on Sept. 1.
It is the longest goal-scoring streak by a Bruin player since Lauren Cheney netted goals in six consecutive games during the 2007 season, which puts Jenkins in pretty good company. Cheney was the first UCLA player to garner NSCAA/adidas First-Team All-America honors in all four years of her career.
While UCLA returned nine starters from last year’s NCAA Quarterfinal squad, the Bruins did lose their leading scorer Zakiya Bywaters to graduation. Bywaters, a First Team All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year, led the league with 15 goals and six game-winning scores in 2012.
So far, it looks like Jenkins is helping the Bruins fill the scoring void left by Bywaters.
“She’s scoring goals and that’s part of a being a striker,” UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell said. “Being a rookie and getting big goals in consecutive games is a pretty good sign. In preseason, we talked about how to attack different ways and some different formations so she is a target for us.”
Jenkins’ transition to the collegiate level was expedited by her experience with the U.S. U-17 National Team that won the 2012 CONCACAF U-17 Championship to qualify for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
“Playing for the U.S. U-17s and having Albertin Montoya as my coach, he pushed me to be a lot better than I was when I started going to those camps,” Jenkins said. “It really helped to play with good players with the U-17s, and now I’m playing with great forwards. I’m learning from them and Amanda has helped a lot, too.”
While Jenkins’ transition has looked seamless thus far thanks to her speed and ability to hold the ball as a target forward, she is looking to build upon her explosive start and maybe even contribute an assist or two.
“There’s always room for improvement, but I have a great team so the transition wasn’t difficult to get comfortable playing with everybody,” Jenkins said. “I have to get in the habit of looking over my shoulder and simple things like that which need to be fixed.”
Jenkins committed to UCLA during her sophomore year when B.J. Snow was at the helm of the Bruins’ program. Last April, Snow was named the first full-time head coach of the U.S. U-17 National Team, but Jenkins did not waiver in her decision when Cromwell was hired after spending 14 seasons in the same position at UCF.
“B.J. was a huge part of (committing to UCLA), but when I heard he was leaving I had no worries they would pick a great coach I would love,” Jenkins said. “I wanted to be a part of a team that could win a national championship and I believe we can definitely do that.”
Cromwell, who led UCF to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances during her tenure, inherited a solid group to mentor as she attempts to lead the Bruins to their first Women’s College Cup since 2009.
“You don’t want to change too much,” Cromwell said. “There were some formations and personnel changes here and there, but this is a quality group of players so you don’t want to tinker too much.”
The Bruins are off to a 4-0-0 start, including the Top 10 win over Notre Dame, but the upcoming weekend may be the toughest on the schedule as UCLA competes at the Duke Classic, facing both No. 1 North Carolina and No. 12 Duke.
UCLA begins the weekend tournament with a hefty task as it faces the defending NCAA Champion Tar Heels on Friday at 8 p.m. ET. The Bruins have never defeated UNC in eight meetings, including four contests in the College Cup. They have had more success against Duke, posting a 3-1 record in the series against the Blue Devils, who they meet on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Jenkins said. “I know they will be tough games, but I’m really excited to see how it turns out. I know a lot of the girls on both teams so it will be a lot of fun.”
UCLA enters the weekend ranked No. 3 in the NSCAA Division I Top 25, and Cromwell plans to keep her team’s goals set high as the Bruins continue their journey for the program’s first NCAA title.
“You need to give yourself a chance to win national championship every year,” Cromwell said. “That’s kind of just how it is at UCLA – that’s the culture.”
Amy Farnum Patronis is a contributing writer for College Soccer News covering Division I women's soccer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org