Just a few minutes into the UCLA women’s volleyball match on Friday, it was evident that UCLA was going to have a difficult night. The Bruins lost the first five points of the game to the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (25-3, 17-1) . From that point forward, it was going to be an uphill climb, with UCLA eventually falling in four sets.
“I just don’t think we were ready to play,” said senior outside hitter Rachael Kidder. “I don’t think we prepared the right way and I think we kind of took it easy and thought we were just going to come in and put up with a good game right away, but we got a rude awakening.”
The slow start for the Bruins continued throughout the first two sets, in which the defending national champions never even had a lead.
“I think were used to coming out and dominating teams, so when they came out and punched back right away we were a little shell-shocked,” said assistant coach Dan O’Dell.
For many, it was surprising to see No. 5 UCLA (21-6, 13-5) so sluggish. The stage had been set for the Bruins to put on a dominating performance: They had delivered one of their best performances of the season the previous night against California and were playing their first game at the new Pauley Pavilion.
The atmosphere inside Pauley was electric ““ the UCLA players looked loose before the game, and the unveiling of the national championship banner before the game only added to the excitement.
“I think the environment fired us up for sure, but we also probably got a little distracted,” said sophomore outside hitter Karsta Lowe. “It was just a weird funk. We were fired up but it just wasn’t happening for us when we were on the court.”
The Bruins eventually settled in and came within a few points of forcing a fifth set. As the comeback mounted, so did the noise level at Pauley Pavilion.
“We haven’t had a crowd like this in a long time,” O’Dell said. “At the end of the match, to see everyone on their feet chanting “˜UCLA’ was amazing.”
With only two more regular season games left, this loss puts the Bruins in danger of losing momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament. The level of concern remains low, however, since last year the team took the championship despite losing three of its last five games in the regular season.
“Going into the tournament, it’s not all about what kind of momentum we have going into it,” O’Dell said. “I think we know we can compete with these teams and we know we have enough talent to be there in the end.”