Thursday’s loss to Oregon might have cost the women’s volleyball team a chance at the Pac-12 Championship, but UCLA regrouped with a win over Oregon State Sunday, looking to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“Any time we come off a loss we’re going to be out for blood,” said junior middle blocker Claire Felix. “I think it was good for us to come back and perform instead of getting off to a slow start.”
The No. 9 Bruins (21-5, 12-4 Pac-12) took down the Beavers (5-21, 3-13) for the second time this season on Sunday at the John Wooden Center. UCLA won the first set handily, came back to win the second, lost the third 27-25, and then shut down Oregon State in the fourth set for a 3-1 win.
Sophomore outside hitter Reily Buechler started for the first time in two weeks on Sunday, saying she was “100 percent” physically. Her return allowed the Bruins to revert back to their three-person passing system, instead of the two-person system they had used with Buechler sidelined.
“I think three-man passing is just a tad bit easier,” Buechler said. “You have more trust between players. It’s easier for people to serve seams when there’s a two-person pass. We kind of struggled with that in a couple of games.”
The strong passing led to an exceptional performance from UCLA’s starting middle blockers, as Felix and junior Jennie Frager combined for 17 kills on a .469 hitting percentage.
“Against this team and the way we scouted them, I think it was the best with the three-man,” Felix said. “Having (freshman setter) Zana Muno and a couple new players in the lineup a little more consistently finally came together today.”
Freshman Kyra Rogers, one of those new players seeing consistent time, continued her transition from middle blocker to outside hitter even as Buechler returned. Rogers played in the first and fourth sets, while redshirt junior Haley Lawless played the middle games. Both posted negative hitting percentages, but Rogers both out-killed and out-blocked Lawless 4-2.
“(Rogers) has been using (the opportunity to play outside),” said coach Michael Sealy. “Lawless has been banged up. Week to week in practice, people are varied in how many reps they can take, so a ‘starting rotation’ doesn’t cross my mind very often.”
Although Sealy would not say that either Rogers or Lawless had won a starting spot, Felix said Rogers’ middle blocking background allows the Bruins some flexibility when she is on the court.
“It does give us more options,” Felix said. “She is such an explosive player and she can do pretty much anything, so having that option where we can run cross plays or stay unstacked and have it look the same way is pretty rad for us.”
Although Thursday’s loss left the team’s Pac-12 title hopes all but erased, the Bruins gained momentum on Sunday as they prepare for a tough conference stretch against No. 21 Arizona State, No. 19 Arizona, No. 2 USC and No. 6 Stanford.
“We’re coming into a really hard week,” Buechler said. “I think we have to bring it all together and get pumped. We really have to win these games if we want to make it to the tournament.”