The UCLA women’s volleyball team was in a tough spot on Saturday night after Utah edged out a fourth-set victory to force a decisive fifth.
But it wasn’t the way they were playing that made the Bruins’ chances look bleak ““ it was their recent history.
For one, the road has not been kind to No. 6 UCLA (20-5, 12-4 Pac-12). The defending national champions had not won back-to-back road games since conference play had begun; they had not been able to come home undefeated from a road trip all year. The team swept Colorado (14-14, 4-12) the previous night, so it appeared the Bruins were just having their customary off night against the Utah Utes.
Furthermore, the Bruins were playing in a fifth set, where they had only won once in four tries this year. Even against a struggling opponent such as Utah (12-17, 3-13), the circumstances did not favor UCLA.
But finally, after a back-and-forth fifth set, the Bruins came away with a five-set win to cap off their first road sweep of the year. Coach Michael Sealy welcomed the adversity.
“We don’t benefit from going in there and getting an easy 3-0 win, it doesn’t make us any better,” Sealy said. “The big story everyone wanted to write was about how we can’t win a fifth set, so this was a great opportunity for us.”
It was an opportunity the Bruins were intent on capitalizing on, not just for the win on their record but also for a boost in their confidence as they head toward the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve been in that (fifth set) situation several times before but it hadn’t gone our way, so I think we were absolutely determined to get a win under these circumstances,” senior libero Bojana Todorovic said.
“It’s good to pull through and find that last minute of motivation even when it’s tight in the fifth set and you’ve been playing for an hour and a half.”
On Friday against Colorado, the kills were thick and fast for UCLA, but on Saturday, points proved harder to come by.
“They were two very different matches,” Sealy said. “One was us firing on all cylinders being pretty much flawless and perfect. The other one was about having to scratch and claw to find a way to win.”
Consistency isn’t the only issue left to be addressed; another minor matter emerged during the hard-fought victory against Utah.
“Something we need to work on is not letting our frustration get the best of us,” said senior outside hitter Rachael Kidder.
“I think sometimes when things weren’t going our way we stopped doing what we were supposed to do and stopped following assignments. We stopped doing the easy things we should be doing.”