Pauley Pavilion was unchartered territory for UCLA’s opponents, as the Austin Peay women’s volleyball team had never traveled to California for a match in its program’s history.
The No. 15-seeded Bruins (19-10, 12-8 Pac-12) proved too much for the Governors (30-5, 14-2 Ohio Valley Conference) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, winning by scores of 25-10, 25-13 and 25-14.
It was UCLA’s largest margin of victory of the season.
“In a first round of the tournament, (playing) an opponent that maybe isn’t nationally known and ranked, sometimes those matches are hard. They’ve got nothing to lose,” said coach Michael Sealy. “We lost the first set last year to Murray State. (Tonight) it was just really clean from the get go and there weren’t any nerves shown out there, and that’s pretty rare.”
The Bruins began the game going up 9-1, immediately proving the Governors couldn’t handle its size and pin hitting with seven combined kills from senior outside hitter Reily Buechler and outside hitter Mac May. Austin Peay has only one player on its entire roster taller than 6 feet, while the average height of UCLA’s starting hitters is 6-foot-2.
It was May’s first NCAA tournament match of her career, who finished the night with seven kills.
“You dream about it your whole life to be in an NCAA Tournament in collegiate volleyball and it’s finally happening,” May said. “It’s just pretty amazing and we just worked hard.”
Sophomore middle blocker Madeleine Gates was the only Bruin to record a block in the match, with three in just two sets. However, UCLA forced 15 errors from Austin Peay and held the Governors to a .051 hitting percentage. Only one player on Austin Peay had more than three kills.
The Bruins hit .438 in the first set and held the Governors to only six kills and a .000 hitting percentage. UCLA took the set 25-10, its largest point differential in a set on the season.
The Bruins’ attack was dominant in nearly every facet of the game, posting more than double the amount of kills than the Governors on just three more attempts. UCLA also had nine service aces, including seven from Buechler, which ties the fifth-most service aces in a match from any player in the country this year.
The second set was not much different, as UCLA won 25-13 and held Austin Peay to a mere five kills and a -.103 hitting percentage in the set. Senior setter Sarah Sponcil recorded her 18th double-double of the yearnear the beginning of the second set, and finished the game with 28 assists and 18 digs.
Austin Peay took its first lead of the game at 9-10 in the third set, only to see UCLA go on a ten-point run to then close out the match. The Governors committed just one error in the set, compared to 14 in the first two, but throughout the game UCLA’s attack was just too dominant.
The Bruins had a balanced attack, hitting .324 on the match with five players posting six or more kills, led by Buechler with 13 kills and a .393 hitting percentage.
“I don’t think we have (just one) dominant hitter out there,” Sealy said. “Hitters will have dominant nights, but over the course of the year a different person is going to be the stud every single night. We’re pretty used to either having balance or knowing who is going to be hot that night and going with it.”
UCLA will face Cal Poly (27-2, 16-0 Big West)onSaturday at 7 p.m. with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
“I think tonight was just good judgment of character, and now we’re going to go into tomorrow and get after it again,” Buechler said. “We definitely showed some passion tonight, and it’s going to be an emotional game tomorrow.”