All the pressure and expectations just seem to slip off UCLA’s shoulders around this time of year.
Now, the fun begins.
Last year, the Bruins received a timely pep talk from former UCLA softball coach and 11-time NCAA champion Sue Enquist just before the NCAA tournament began, stressing this simple message.
“She was telling us all about how the tournament is just (like the) regular season (and it’s) all just regular volleyball but with a party dress on it,” sophomore middle blocker ZoÃ« Nightingale said.
“It’s dressed up really nice and everyone thinks it’s a way bigger deal than it really is. It’s (just) normal volleyball.”
This year, Enquist gave the Bruins the same spiel again, and UCLA is looking to capitalize on the same calming, re-energizing effect that it brought last year.
“Going into practice right now (on Monday) “¦ I think everyone is really just pumped to play volleyball after Sue came in and talked to us. It’s the fun part of the season,” Nightingale said.
Today, No. 7 UCLA (22-7) will begin NCAA tournament play against Long Island University Brooklyn (25-7) with the same mind-set that ignited their magic last year.
“All that hard work in the spring carries into the summer and preseason (and so on). This is the postseason, it’s the time where you just get to have fun. “¦ It’s the time when you can let it all go. This is what you live for,” said junior outside hitter Kelly Reeves.
This relaxed attitude is the team’s secret ingredient to their not-so-secret recent success.
Last year, the Bruins rode that mentality to six straight wins, including a win over the then four-time defending national champion Penn State, an 18-3 overall set record and a national championship.
The team’s laid-back persona can be traced back to its coach, Michael Sealy.
Sealy’s smooth coaching style and California-cool personality keeps the atmosphere around his team light, even as the pressure mounts.
In fact, he puts next-to-none on his team, describing his team’s expectations for the tournament as “If you win, you win. If you don’t, you don’t.”
UCLA did win last year, but this year’s team isn’t relying on last year’s brilliance.
“We’ve been there so we kind of know the road,” Reeves said. “But we also have to be very mindful in how we approach it and just remember that what we had last year was last year, but (still) keep in mind what does it take to get there.”
For Sealy, the secret ingredient is his entire recipe.
“(You) just detach. Just go play volleyball,” Sealy said.