This weekend marked a transition for the UCLA women’s volleyball team, as the team finished regular season play against USC on Friday and learned their seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
UCLA was given the No. 9 overall seed in the tournament and will host their first two games of the tournament at the Wooden Center.
The team has put the regular season behind them and is focused solely on preparing for the tournament and the first round game against University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
“We’re really excited. It’s nice to be able to play at home. If we make it past those two rounds our bracket seems tough but great teams like Texas and Penn State, if we make it that far to play them that would be great,” junior outside hitter Rachael Kidder said.
The regular season ended on Friday for No. 4 UCLA (24-6, 17-5) with a four-set loss to No. 1 USC (25-4, 20-2). UCLA swept USC at the Galen Center earlier in the season, but the Trojans got the best of their rivals the second time around.
“We weren’t crisp, I don’t think we did a ton of great things, it was a tough match up. They’re playing very physical right now,” coach Mike Sealy said of USC’s Friday win. The Bruins struggled on offense and the Trojans repeatedly capitalized on their mistakes.
USC seized an early lead in the first set, but UCLA went on a late run to win the opener 26-24.
However, USC effectively controlled the game from that point on, winning the following three sets 24-26, 21-25, and 20-25 to edge out UCLA for the Pac-12 crown.
“They were definitely a lot more physical than we were, we tried our best and we did what we could but there’s definitely a few spots that we have to fix a little bit, but I don’t think it was anything too glaring,” senior libero Lainey Gera said.
Kidder led UCLA with 18 kills and also added five digs against USC. Kidder was with the team last season when UCLA lost to Texas in their second game of the tournament and emphasized the importance of taking control of postseason games for the team.
“We showed in the first game that we can come back from behind, but it’s really hard to do especially when you put yourself in that situation every time. I think we need to focus on starting out with the lead and keeping our lead the whole time, and making people catch up to us,” Kidder said.
Kidder added that the team needs to match the intensity level of their opponents, something they failed to do against USC.
“I don’t think we executed as well as we should have, I think we started out really strong and they kind of picked it up. Once they started playing tough I think we kind of backed down a little bit,” Kidder said.
UCLA’s first round matchup, Maryland Eastern Shore, is an unfamiliar opponent for the Bruins, but the team is glad to be at home and will not make the mistake of looking past their first round matchup.
“They won’t be as big as teams we’re used to, but they’ll be physical, they’ll be scrappy, they’ll be well trained. They will pose a challenge for sure,” Sealy said.
Six games now stand between the Bruins and their goal: the national championship.
“We definitely need to keep improving and find some consistency, especially if we want to win six games in a row,” Gera said.