After two straight losses to top-six teams and a lackluster effort in Friday’s first-set loss to USC, UCLA’s woes seemed primed to continue.
But it was then coach Michael Sealy substituted sophomore setter Megan Moenoa in for freshman setter Becca Strehlow, and the Bruins’ fortunes began to turn.
“There’s an old saying in volleyball, “˜If somebody’s playing poorly, yank “˜em. If the whole team’s playing poorly, yank the setter.’ So it wasn’t something Becca was doing or not doing, it’s just that we were slow and not moving so we decided to change … (it) up a little bit,” Sealy said.
The change didn’t stop there as the Bruins embraced a renewed defensive intensity.
Behind these changes, No. 7 UCLA (22-7, 14-6 Pac-12) turned its slow start into a 3-1 win over No. 4 USC (27-5, 15-5) on Friday.
It was the front-row blocking ““ 16.5 blocks in the last three sets ““ that shined brightest in the Bruins’ comeback.
“We said from the beginning we weren’t going to try and block (a lot of) balls, which is kind of ironic. We were mostly focused on digging because we knew this team hits over block … (but) I think it was really easy to play defense around our block because we were so consistent up there,” said senior outside hitter Rachael Kidder.
But USC kept it close late in the fourth set, until UCLA, who has been plagued by many close losses this season, picked up their level of play again.
“We’ve had a lot of tight games in this season. We know what it’s been like to be in that situation and let the other team come in and pull away. So we decided it’s time for us to be that team,” said senior libero Bojana Todorovic.
However, the most important change the Bruins made on the night couldn’t be found in a box score.
“We think we kind of let go of the fact that there was pressure. And when you let go of that you relax and you see everything happen. It’s so simple. The game’s simple. … And I think that’s what we focused on. And we had fun. I think that was the biggest thing that changed,” Todorovic said.
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