When the sand volleyball team took to Santa Monica’s Annenberg Beach on the March 21 for a matchup against Nebraska, it got its first taste ever of hosting a competition – but the home court advantage was not enough for a win.
Hosting one of its only two out-of-state opponents of the season, fellow first-year program Nebraska, UCLA fell 3-2 in its closest decision so far.
Before facing the Cornhuskers, the Bruins had won only a single match in dual competition, and none in games they lost. But against Nebraska, UCLA found itself within one win of an overall victory.
After trading wins throughout the day, the two teams found themselves tied going into the day’s last match, a showdown featuring UCLA’s top duo of juniors Meg Norton and Kelly Reeves.
In a repeat performance of their championship loss in USC’s tournament days before, the pair found themselves unable to get their footing. Nebraska took the match, and the overall win, with a decisive 21-15, 21-16 victory.
But the matchups that got the Bruins to this point showed that the team has made progress from its first match several weeks ago.
Just before Norton and Reeves took the court, UCLA’s No. 2 team, sophomore Zoë Nightingale and freshman Becca Strehlow, took a two-set win to get the Bruins back in the game – a big change from the pair’s recent back-to-back losses against USC.
And while these higher-ranked Bruin pairs have been showing signs of improvement, one less-experienced team has been quietly reliable throughout the season.
The No. 5 freshmen duo of Rachel Inouye and Maddy Klineman, who brought home the Bruins’ first-ever match victory just days before, opened the day’s competition with two 21-19 set victories.
As the Bruins head into the nationwide competitions of April and May, the continued development of these younger duos will be crucial if UCLA wants to win matches – let alone games – against the nation’s most experienced squads.
Compiled by Liz Schneider, Bruin Sports senior staff.