During the second set of Sunday’s women’s volleyball match, junior libero Meg Norton dove to her left, deflecting the ball off her arm. It spun to the sideline where junior outside hitter Kelly Reeves almost slid into the scorer’s table to save it.
The Bruins bent but didn’t break on that play, mirroring No. 6 UCLA’s (17-4, 9-3 Pac-12) entire afternoon against No. 5 Washington (17-4, 8-4) as they grinded out a 3-1 win over the Huskies.
UCLA took the first two sets behind a thrilling display of energy and rhythm, and left the court for halftime to a standing ovation.
“We had a really good game plan. We studied their hitters a lot. We knew what they were going to do,” senior libero Bojana Todorovic said of the team’s early defensive success.
“At the same time, I think it was just intensity. We had that right mindset where we were the perfect amount of calm and aggressive. It just kind of fit perfectly.”
The third and fourth sets proved different, as the Bruins began to unravel.
In the third set, Washington jumped out to a 14-7 lead, and coach Michael Sealy inserted freshman setter Becca Strehlow in for sophomore setter Megan Moenoa.
“(Megan) missed a few assignments. It wasn’t so much the setting,” Sealy said. “We’d given up a string of points, so I just wanted (Megan) to reset. I had every intention of throwing her right back in, but Becca was doing a great job and the offense was clicking, so we just stuck with (her).”
Behind Strehlow’s contagious energy, the Bruins’ rallied to tie the game at 18. However, late errors dented that rally and UCLA fell, 22-25.
The fourth set began much like the third ““ with another Washington lead and another UCLA comeback. Eventually, the Huskies pushed the Bruins to within a point of another late-game collapse.
But behind gritty play and senior leadership, UCLA staved off the set point, and two more, to ultimately take the set 28-26.
Senior outside hitter Rachael Kidder, who had all three of UCLA’s kills at those set points, thought the Bruins’ near collapse worked to their advantage.
“I think it’s good for us to have those challenges and practice that now, especially since we haven’t had the best results with close games like that,” Kidder said. “Usually we lose them but I think it was exciting to be able to come out with a win.”
While UCLA’s ultimate goal lies in December’s NCAA tournament, Sunday’s game against Washington also held a bit of extra significance. Coming into the match, the Bruins were 0-4 against top five teams at the time, but ended those woes by defeating the Huskies.
“It was a big deal,” Todorovic said. “We’ve had a lot of struggles with the best teams out there. … I think this just kind of us helped us show we’re in a different stage in the second half of the season and we’re going forward.”