Though the results may not show it, on Sunday – the final day of the Pac-12 beach volleyball championship at USC’s Merle Norman Stadium – No. 4 UCLA entered new territory. Top to bottom, the Bruins were nearly unrecognizable from the team that began the season.
The first game of the day for UCLA (19-6) against No. 1 USC (30-2) proved to be the greatest barometer of change. The Bruins ultimately came up short versus the Trojans, losing by a score of 3-2, but it was a mostly positive outcome. UCLA took a team that historically dominated them, which registered all sweeps in prior meetings, and gave them everything they could handle.
“Taking two points off of ‘SC – we’ve never taken a match off of them and got that close to beating them,” said coach Stein Metzger. “I think we’ve taken huge strides and gone from the middle of the pack to the upper side of the pack – it’s really promising. I think we’re only going to go in one direction.”
While the team can feel good about challenging their crosstown rivals, they were disappointed by the result of the following game against No. 6 Arizona (19-5) in the contender’s bracket semifinal.
The Bruins beat the Wildcats in both of their previous meeting this season, including a 4-1 win the day before, but this time the latter pulled out a 3-2 victory.
UCLA lacked the energy and drive it showed against USC, perhaps suffering an emotional withdrawal from the earlier game.
“There was a lot of emotion involved in that USC match, there’s no question,” Metzger said. “It’s not an easy thing to be able to recover and come back in back-to-back games or even nights. Look at the NBA, you see that all the time. It’s a lot to ask of an athlete.”
While the Bruins were not at their best, the same cannot be said for the Wildcats, who brought their A-game to pull off the upset.
“It’s definitely frustrating, but we have to give it up to our opponents because they came out and fought really hard and had a lot of passion,” said freshman Zana Muno. “They played a good, humble game and we have to respect that. We did all we could.”
On an individual pairs level, the Bruins experienced a great deal of success, especially the duo of Muno and junior Jessyka Ngauamo. Ever since Ngauamo’s recent return from injury, she and her partner have yet to lose a game. They extended their hot streak with wins over USC’s and Arizona’s ours. As a reward the two were named to the all-tournament team, alongside fellow Bruins Megan and Nicole McNamara.
“For our team, we got better this weekend,” Ngauamo said.
Up next for UCLA is the NCAA championship, where they will be the No. 4 seed and face No. 5 Hawaii in the opening round.
“Any time you play a strong opponent and have a battle like we did against ‘SC, you’re learning,” Metzger said. “We’re going to get a little bit better and go to Gulf Shores and see what we can do.”