Enquist: 'Bruin Bubble' Is Secret To UCLA's Success
Sue Enquist couldn't help but wrap her arms around current UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez in a tight embrace on Tuesday night. Enquist, a softball legend who spent 27 years at the helm of the Bruins' softball program, felt like a proud parent while watching Inouye-Perez and her UCLA squad capture the 12th NCAA championship in program history with a 5–4 victory over Oklahoma.
"Kelly [Inouye-Perez] is like a daughter to me," Enquist, a winner of 10 NCAA titles as a coach at UCLA, told Softball America in a phone interview. "I’m not a parent, but this past week I experienced being a parent as much as you could be...I’m like the annoying mother who has a daughter who can’t do anything wrong."
Inouye-Perez, who was Enquist's assistant coach for 13 years and played for her and Sharron Backus at UCLA from 1989–93, was quick to express her gratitude for the matriarchs of the Bruin softball family after Tuesday's national title–clinching win.
"The one thing that I can say to speak to the program, [I am] so proud for Sharron Backus and Sue Enquist, [with UCLA] being able to win in every decade," Inouye-Perez said after UCLA won its first national championship since 2010 on Tuesday.
The relationship that exists between Enquist and Inouye-Perez is perhaps the perfect representation of what UCLA's program culture is all about. The "Bruin Bubble," as those associated with the team affectionately call it, consists of the UCLA faithful of the past and present, including alumnae of the program, the families of current and former players and loyal friends of the university.
"I literally have been in the 'Bruin Bubble' for 31 years," said Inouye-Perez, who now has two national championships under her belt in 13 seasons as UCLA's head coach. "I committed to it because it is something that is bigger than all of us. Being able to represent the four letters, but also be a part of this family."
According to Enquist, UCLA's full-time coaching staff—which consists of Inouye-Perez and veteran assistant coaches Lisa Fernandez and Kirk Walker—is intentional about who it chooses to include in the "Bruin Bubble."
"UCLA separates itself because I think this program has captured the code on how to recruit great families," said Enquist, the first All-American in UCLA's program history. "You recruit these strong families that raise their kids right. These kids come in and understand the values of working hard and staying positive. The program’s job is to get them to be comfortable under a very small margin for error. It's all about having good people."
The power of UCLA's "Bruin Bubble" was on full display at this year's Women's College World Series, as a small but mighty group in blue could be spotted among a sea of red in the overwhelmingly pro-Oklahoma crowd at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
Despite being heavily outnumbered, the "Bruin Bubble," which owns the most NCAA softball titles of any program in the country, chanted and cheered along with the Bruins who were on the field and in the dugout. Inouye-Perez says those fans, who came from near and far to root for their Bruins, were an integral part of UCLA's championship run this season.
"Seeing them in the stands, it brings [our players] confidence," Inouye-Perez stated. "They talk to them before games, after games."
While that level of access may be outlawed at certain programs around the country, at UCLA, it is just the Bruin way.
"The 'Bruin Bubble' is family," Inouye-Perez said. "We're Bruins for life."