UCLA women’s volleyball hadn’t lost to Washington State in Pullman, Washington, since 2002.
That changed Friday night.
The No. 13 Bruins (13-7, 6-5 Pac-12) were upset by the Cougars (14-9, 3-8) in five sets. Coach Michael Sealy said it came down to Washington State becoming more effective as the match went on.
“They gave us a lot of easy points,” Sealy said. “They’re big, so they’re a good out-of-system blocking team and we didn’t control the ball as well. Instead of being in our offense and keeping them guessing, we had to go high balls left and right – and that’s not a great matchup.”
UCLA played well throughout set one, never losing the lead and outhitting Washington State .167 to .026 in the set.
Set two was tighter, with 10 ties and five lead changes. But Washington State was able to score on tips and defensively stop UCLA to take the lead at the end.
The Cougars’ defense posted 21 total blocks on the night, compared to 10 by the Bruins.
Although ball control wasn’t great and the pins suffered, UCLA was able to produce at the middle. Junior middle blocker Kyra Rogers tallied nine kills, hitting .600 and sophomore middle blocker Madeleine Gates led the team with 16 kills and six blocks.
Gates is ranked first for the Bruins on the season with 83 blocks.
“The (Cougars’) block was definitely a lot stronger with the pin hitters, so that was helpful for me in the middle,” Gates said. “Sometimes there would only be one person up or they weren’t focusing on the middle, so I was able to get some kills for my team.”
The third set started close, but outside hitter Taylor Mims of Washington State had five kills to lead the Cougars to win the set. Mims recorded 21 total kills in the match, along with 11 digs and five blocks.
UCLA grabbed early momentum in set four, opening with a 6-1 lead and holding the lead throughout, hitting .233 in the set. Sophomore setter Kylie Miller transitioned in for the Bruins as they ran a 6-2 offense for only the third time this year.
Sealy said that since Washington State had one of their setters who was a weaker blocker moving around in the front row, running a 6-2 would allow the Bruins to always be able to find her.
Senior setter Sarah Sponcil took her first swings of the season from the outside and hit .250, posting eight kills. She was two kills shy of a triple-double, recording 37 assists and 16 digs.
Sponcil was an outside hitter during her three years at Loyola Marymount, so she was familiar with the position.
“It was kind of different because I don’t really practice it,” Sponcil said. “It was fun to be back there.”
There were six ties in set five, but Washington State pulled ahead at the end to win the match.
Although the Bruins showed variety offensively and had strong defense, with multiple players posting double-digit digs, it was not enough to outplay the Cougars.
“You don’t lose matches because you play bad. You lose matches because you’re disappointed that you’re playing bad,” Sealy said. “It didn’t look like we wanted to play, so that’s something we’ve got to change.”