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UCLA ready to take new team ‘down under’

UCLA's large junior class talks with donors after practice. Photo by Sue Favor.
UCLA’s large junior class talks with donors after practice. Photo by Sue Favor.

A new group of UCLA Bruins faced off with some revered alumni in practice last week in preparation for their first International trip in five years.

Coaches ran players through a spirited and competitive session in front of donors and other alumni and fans to ready themselves for a 10-day visit to Australia, which begins this Thursday. Suiting up to scrimmage and run drills against them with male practice players were former UCLA standouts Noelle Quinn, Darxia Morris and Antonye Nyingifa.

The Bruins will play four games against local club teams while in Australia. But coach Cori Close said the main point of the trip is to learn about the culture and people there, and to perform some community service.

“It is about having a cultural experience,” Close told those in attendance. “We want them to immerse themselves in the culture and learn about the people and the country.”

UCLA players last traveled out of the United States to Italy in 2011, just after Close was hired. The only current member of that team left is senior guard Kari Korver.

Last week’s practice was a chance for the Bruin faithful to see the team that in March ascended to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 17 years. It was also a first look at returners and newcomers.

Three starters – Jordin Canada, Monique Billings and Korver – return, as do six reserves: Chrissy Baird, Kennedy Burke, Lajahna Drummer, Kelli Hayes, Ashley Hearn and Paulina Hersler. Drummer will be out for six months with an undisclosed injury.

Former UCLA stand outs Darxia Morris, Noelle Quinn and Antonye Nyingifa after practicing with the current Bruin squad earlier this week. Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

Dominique Williams, who missed last season with an injury, will be back, and Nicole Kornet, who sat out last year after transferring from Oklahoma, will be activated. Newcomers include freshmen Lindsey Corsaro, a McDonald’s All-American from Indiana, and Ally Rosenblum, from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif.

This year’s squad will be young, as Korver and Kornet are the only seniors.

Quinn, who plays for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, and Morris and Nyingifa, who each play professionally overseas, kept the Bruins on their toes with polished skills. Morris and Pac-12 all-star Canada, who are both about the same size, were especially competitive.

“As you can see, the intensity of Rex brings out the competitiveness in Jordin,” Close said afterwards to attendees.

Players and coaches took turns fielding questions about athletics, academics and the upcoming trip, as well as explaining their missions and goals at UCLA. Quinn, Morris and Nyingifa also spoke, with Morris saying she “loved” the energy and cohesion of this year’s team.

“We are so very fortunate to have such great alumni that don’t mind coming in for a practice or a workout, and we’re very grateful for the support of our donors and alumni,” Close said to the audience.

The Bruins begin their season at home Nov. 11, against Pacific, and then travel to Texas to take on Baylor. Other pre-conference opponents will include Southern University, Iowa, Toledo, Michigan and South Carolina.

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