Sunday, June 16

Women’s volleyball heads to USC for first conference game of the season

Zana Muno has stayed in the back row for most of the season, but took swings up front in UCLA's most recent set. The sophomore said Monday she had "no idea" where she'll play against USC. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Zana Muno has stayed in the back row for most of the season, but took swings up front in UCLA's most recent set. The sophomore said Monday she had "no idea" where she'll play against USC. (Daily Bruin file photo)

The UCLA women’s volleyball team isn’t exactly starting off its Pac-12 schedule on a dull note.

With a classic cross-town matchup this Wednesday, the No. 9 Bruins (9-1) will play their first conference game of 2016 in Trojan territory.

Thanks to a strong pre-season performance and no injuries currently plaguing the Bruin roster, coach Michael Sealy is in a good position to start things off with momentum as he go up against the No. 21 Trojans (8-3) at the Galen Center.

“We’re not too worried either gym we go to,” Sealy said. “We’ve played in front of 9,000 people in Hawai’i. These girls, our seniors have played there three times already. It’s just a volleyball game.”

With just one loss so far, UCLA looked strong while facing their preseason competition at tournaments like the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic. The Bruins also won their most recent match last Wednesday 3-1 against Long Beach State.

[Related: Women’s volleyball comes out on top against Long Beach State]

Despite three consecutive losses at the beginning of its pre-season, USC has headed in the opposite direction and won all of its games since.

“I think Wednesday’s game is going to be really intense regardless of the teams’ outcomes so far in preseason,” said redshirt junior setter Ryann Chandler. “We’ve been putting a lot of work into blocking and making our offense crisper. It’ll be fun to see us fix and fine-tune all of those things that we’ve been working on.”

In their last trip across town, the Bruins upset the then top-ranked Trojans in a five-set win. With four players earning double figures in kills and digs, UCLA utilized its strengths in both the front and back row to emerge triumphantly.

Samantha Bricio was a major weapon on the USC roster last year. The outside hitter racked up 2015 AVCA National Player of the Year and Pac-12 Player of the Year honors in her senior season, and following her graduation, USC head coach Mick Haley will have to fill a key element of their attack.

“They’ve got a lot of new bodies,” Sealy said. “They lost the NCAA Player of the Year but they have the best freshman coming in. So its the same rough system they had last year, but a lot of new personnel.”

USC will be adding outside hitter Khalia Lanier to its team this year, along with three other freshmen. Lanier was named 2016 Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year and the MaxPreps No.1-ranked Recruit.

Despite San Diego handing the Bruins their only loss during the preseason, sophomore defensive specialist Zana Muno described the setback as ultimately beneficial for their mission later on in the year.

“I think that was probably the best thing that could’ve happened because it really made us realize that we need to keep working, that we’re not there yet,” Muno said.

With UCLA facing its first hurdle in the form of a rivalry showdown, all of the practice and work over the past few months will culminate in this season opener Wednesday night.

“The Pac-12 is such an exciting part of our season … we’re just gonna try to have as much fun as possible,” Muno said. “And when we’re able to have fun is when we’re most successful.”

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Melissa Zhang is an assistant Sports editor. She was previously a reporter for the women's water polo, women's soccer, women's volleyball, men's volleyball, and cross country beats.

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