As UCLA led Arizona late in the third set last Sunday, one Bruin player yelled out, “0-0, let’s go!” before the next point.
For the Bruins, who have officially reached the halfway point of their regular season, the second half of the season is not exactly that kind of fresh start, but it is somewhat of a new beginning.
But UCLA isn’t moving forward without first remembering how far it’s come.
“We’ve improved a lot (in the first half of the season). Just getting in a groove. We have a lot of talent, but we’ve been trying to make it all click and bring it together,” said senior outside hitter Rachael Kidder.
“We’re still working on trying to be a better defensive team and blocking. We’re slowly getting better at those things.”
Senior libero Bojana Todorovic pointed to the team’s increased mental toughness as another step forward.
“(We’ve also improved) maturity-wise ““ like how to deal in adverse situations when things aren’t going our way. We know what that feels like, and we know how to get through it,” Todorovic said.
UCLA (12-3, 4-2 Pac-12) came into the season the defending national champions, with the national bull’s-eye of being preseason No. 1. However, three close losses to top-five teams have dropped the Bruins to No. 7 in the polls.
But coach Michael Sealy never fell for the preseason hype.
“I knew it was all false. I knew this team’s journey was going to look very different,” Sealy said.
“But you don’t know what your journey is going to be until it starts unfolding. So we’re just now figuring out what that unfolding looks like.”
The journey will continue to unwind this weekend as UCLA travels to the Bay Area to face No. 4 Stanford (15-2, 7-0) today and Cal (9-7, 3-3) on Sunday.
On Wednesday night, Stanford, led by its balanced attack and dominant defense, swept No. 6 USC, who previously handed UCLA its worst loss of the season.
The game against the Cardinal will also be the Bruins’ fourth against a top-five team this season.
Although UCLA is winless in its last three games against top-five opponents, Sealy said the Bruins are more concerned with preparing for tough opponents than the results.
“We talked last week about the process being more important than the end product to make sure we’re on that learning path as a team,” Sealy said. “But at the same time, winning is a habit. The more that you can win, the more you reinforce that habit.”