Wednesday, 7 p.m.
John Wooden Center
BY THE NUMBERS
Days since the Bruins last loss
Games UCLA won last year before losing their first game of the season
Things seemed to be going in UCLA’s favor.
Playing in the midst of a hostile crowd and facing a two-set deficit, defending national champion UCLA women’s volleyball rallied to take two sets. Then, in the fifth set, the team took a 13-11 lead against No. 4 Nebraska.
But what happened next was anything but normal for the Bruins. The Cornhuskers blocked senior outside hitter Tabi Love and scored again on the ensuing play to tie it 13-13. A UCLA timeout couldn’t stop the bleeding, and the Nebraska block notched another point.
At match point, a thundering Cornhusker kill sent the home crowd into a frenzy as Nebraska took the fifth set 15-13, and the match, 3-2. Although losing is never the Bruins’ goal, the team isn’t too concerned with the loss, as it is still finding its niche, coach Michael Sealy said.
“This for us is a learning trip. It wasn’t about going and getting two wins and trying to have an undefeated season. We’re still trying to figure out who we are specifically ““ how we play, who we play ““ and we got a lot of those questions answered so it was a great trip for us,” Sealy said.
One of UCLA’s new discoveries was Love’s potential as a focal point of the offense. Against the Cornhuskers, she had a team- and career-high 20 kills.
There is one question left unanswered, however ““ who the starting setter will be after last year’s setter, Lauren Van Orden, graduated.
On Friday, sophomore setter Megan Moenoa started for UCLA in its 3-1 win over Notre Dame. She had 35 assists in her outing. Freshman setter Becca Strehlow started Saturday against Nebraska and totaled 46 assists to go along with a team-high 23 digs. Since much of a team’s offense depends on its setter, Sealy isn’t ready to rush this decision and name a starter just yet.
“That battle will still continue until one of them decides it’s time to take that spot,” Sealy said. But regardless of who the ultimate choice is, adjusting to a new setter will be difficult for the Bruins.
“It’s tough in the beginning, especially because we’ve only been practicing together for a little while,” Strehlow said. “But I think once the game got going and everybody started getting in sync with each other, things went much better for us.”
Another point of concern for UCLA this weekend was its unbalanced offense. The outside hitters combined for almost 80 percent of their kill attempts in two games. The team will need more production from their middle hitters to keep its offense from becoming too predictable.
But as the Bruins know, championships aren’t won in August. An early loss will only serve to help the team. The Bruins will have another opportunity to refine their game when they play the Chinese team, Jiangsu, in their home opener Wednesday, and players are optimistic about continuing to improve.
“Since we did lose, I think now we’re that much more determined and focused on what we need to work on from here on out,” Love said.