Today, 5:30 p.m.
John Wooden Center
Johns Wooden Center
Coach Michael Sealy sat quietly near the corner of the gym during the last 30 minutes of the midweek practice, occasionally blowing his whistle or tossing a ball to one of his players to keep the scrimmage going.
The UCLA women’s volleyball coach rarely lifted a finger to direct his players. There was no need; the team was going about its business just fine.
The Bruins have undoubtedly turned the intensity and focus level up a notch ahead of two crucial home games this weekend against Pac-12 conference opponents.
No. 6 UCLA (10-3, 2-2 Pac-12) takes on Arizona State (13-4, 2-2) tonight before facing Arizona (9-6, 1-3) Sunday afternoon, a team that defeated the Bruins twice last year.
Following a close five-set loss to No. 2 Washington last Wednesday, a few small tweaks were made to practices this week to give the team a push moving forward.
“After we lost to Washington, the coaches really got on us about stepping it up,” said sophomore middle blocker Zoe Nightingale. “We’ve actually been running at practice ““ I haven’t run a sprint since high school so it’s really a change. The intensity at practice has been way higher this week.”
Paying attention to detail was also emphasized during practice this week in an attempt to avoid another close defeat, the kind that last year’s national champions have suffered from in recent weeks.
“We’ve been stressing the small stuff; the fact that we lost a couple close games made us notice that it’s just those little things you have to improve on,” said senior outside hitter Bojana Todorovic. Small stuff aside, a shift toward a quicker and more accelerated style of offense also appears to be in the works for the Bruins.
“We’re just trying to go faster,” Sealy said of his team. “The hitters know what pace they want to go, and the setters have to catch up to that and make sure they’re setting the ball that matches the hitters’ approach.”
With a slew of tough games against the likes of Cal and Stanford looming in the near future, wins this weekend could serve as a momentum boost as UCLA reaches the season’s midpoint. But the team is not looking that far ahead, or even as far as next week. Arizona State is the primary target.
“At this point we’ve realized we have to take every team really seriously,” Nightingale said. “We can’t walk into any game thinking we’re easily going to win it.”
While the main focus is on the Sun Devils heading into tonight, the Sunday rematch against the Wildcats also provides the team an opportunity to measure themselves. The returning players remember the two defeats suffered at the hands of Arizona last season.
“Even though Arizona beat us twice last year, they are a completely different team this year and so are we,” Todorovic said.
“This year, we watch completely different videos, have a completely new strategy, and that’s how we play.”