UCLA sand volleyball’s Tuesday practice had been a lackluster one by normal standards.
The players were going through the motions. Their typical energy and excitement seemed buried beneath the sand, and nowhere to be found.
Feeling a sense of urgency, coach Stein Metzger seemed little prepared to let his team settle for this kind of showing, not with the season’s end fast approaching.
Metzger gathered his players around to impart a simple message. He said there were only a few practices left on the year, and that for most of the doubles pairs, the next two weeks of competition would be their last of the season. The Bruins needed to grasp these waning opportunities for improvement.
That much, at least temporarily, his team seemed to grasp.
“Then we started to pick it up,” said sophomore Rachel Inouye. “We all kind of snapped out of it and we went full speed.”
Playing Loyola Marymount and No. 1 ranked USC Thursday, No. 6 UCLA will look for that same sense of urgency from Tuesday’s practice to carry over to game day.
All season long, the theme of improvement has rung loud and clear for the Bruins. But can it bring them one step further to a program-defining win over the Trojans?
Recent history shows little to give UCLA hope.
Earlier in the season, the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles wiped the floor clean of the Bruins in a five-to-zero sweep. And last week, No. 3 Hawai’i did the same to UCLA – twice.
But then again, that little hope remains.
In their most recent match against the Rainbow Warriors, the Bruins pushed three of the five doubles matches the distance. Sets were tightly contested, and often wound down to the waning points. Perhaps a few mishit balls here, maybe a couple serves there, and the Bruins come out on the winning side of the net.
“We lost to them in three – like how many times – by two points. It was frustrating,” Inouye said.
The difference maker in the sets proved to be what often is in these sort of situations – “the little things.” That’s the area the Bruins have targeted as their next hurdle to clear.
“We have kind of the basics down, but we want to get more crisp,” said sophomore Karly Drolson. “We kind of noticed Hawai’i was very crisp in all their little things, that’s (what) we need to be a little better at.”
Knowing this team, and this season, “a little better” might just be all they’re looking for Thursday.