A .500 record.
Not the way UCLA anticipated starting Pac-12 play.
To turn things around, the Bruins are adopting a new mindset.
“We are going to take more of an underdog mentality,” said senior middle blocker Claire Felix. “Even being ranked, that’s the approach we are going to take, so it’s more of a challenge instead of us feeling like we have something to lose.”
No. 18 UCLA women’s volleyball (11-3, 2-2 Pac-12) will look to regain a winning conference record this weekend in two home matches against unranked Arizona State (7-10, 0-5) and Arizona (10-6, 2-2).
This week’s games follow a four-set road loss to No. 19 Colorado. The score was close in three of the four sets, but the Bruins squandered countless opportunities to push the match to a fifth set.
“The Colorado game felt better than it looked,” said senior outside hitter Jordan Anderson. “We thought we were fighting really hard and we thought we were doing everything we could, but then we watched the video and we realized that we weren’t making the small plays.”
UCLA won’t be billed as the underdog in either match this weekend, but against any Pac-12 opponent there is always opportunity for an upset.
Arizona State – Friday’s opponent – has yet to win its first conference match, but the Sun Devils boast preseason wins over then-No. 17 Santa Clara and unranked Long Beach State, a team the Bruins struggled to beat earlier this year.
“They have a lot of new bodies so they haven’t had much time to get dialed in and in system,” said coach Michael Sealy of ASU. “But they’re more physical than a lot of Pac-12 teams, so they’re always dangerous.”
Sealy said that he expects Arizona to be another physical team. Sunday’s opponent most recently fell to No. 20 Oregon after beating unranked Oregon State.
Senior outside hitter Kalei Mau has been out with a back injury for much of the season but recently made her return for the Wildcats in their win over the Oregon Ducks. A first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2015, Mau recorded 12 kills and three blocks in her return Friday.
Still, Felix said the Bruins’ main focus this weekend will be defining who they are as a unit, as a new rotation and two in-conference upsets have thrown their team identity for a loop.
“We talked about just being okay with where we’re at,” Sealy said. “Knowing we have a long way to go and actually working hard to get there.”