Tuesday, December 10

Weekend in Preview: Women’s water polo faces 4 top-25 teams, track heads to New York

Sophomore Madison Kocian made her return to competition last weekend after being sidelined for five months due to an injury. The Bruins will compete at the Metroplex Challenge in Dallas on Saturday. (Amy Dixon/Assistant Photo editor)

Sophomore Madison Kocian made her return to competition last weekend after being sidelined for five months due to an injury. The Bruins will compete at the Metroplex Challenge in Dallas on Saturday. (Amy Dixon/Assistant Photo editor)

Track and field
Nicholas Yekikian, assistant Sports editor

With the 2018 indoor season finally underway, UCLA track and field will take part in its second meet of the year this weekend.

The Bruins will head east to New York for the Columbia Challenge on Saturday.

UCLA will face the likes of Oregon – whose first-ranked women’s team will be in tow – Columbia, Harvard and Penn.

A number of first-place finishes from UCLA’s throwing and jumping cohorts left sprints and relay coach Curtis Allen with positive expectations for the rest of the year.

“I think we’ll have quite a bit of success in the horizontal jumps this year,” Allen said.

Going with Allen’s high hopes, senior jumper Jessie Maduka and junior thrower Justin Stafford – both of whom snagged event wins last weekend – will also be competing New York.

Freshman thrower Alyssa Wilson, who herself is from New Jersey, set the high school national record for the women’s shot put at the Armory. She is headed to that very same venue this weekend to compete again – this time as a Bruin.

After Wilson’s fourth-place debut last week, throws coach John Frazier said he will be looking for her to shed her day-one jitters in the Big Apple.

Women’s tennis
Dylan D’Souza, Daily Bruin contributor

Starting Friday morning, No. 16 UCLA women’s tennis (1-0) will face North Carolina State and either Kentucky (2-0) or Northwestern (2-0) on back-to-back days in Lexington, Kentucky, at the annual Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kick-Off Weekend.

The winner of the four-team bracket will play at the ITA Division I National Women’s Team Indoor Championship in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Bruins are aiming to perform better than last season, when they lost to Georgia Tech 4-2 in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend final.

After playing only six players last season, coach Stella Sampras Webster will have more choices in the lineups with the additions of two freshmen and junior transfer Ayan Broomfield.

The No. 7 duo of redshirt sophomore Jada Hart and sophomore Ena Shibahara (7-1 on court one last year) narrowly lost to North Carolina State’s No. 9 duo of Anna Rogers and Claudia Wiktorin 8-6 at the 2017 Riviera/ITA All-American Championships in early October.

“We, unfortunately, lost to them after having the lead,” Hart said. “It would be nice to get revenge against them.”

The Bruins have spent the last couple of days preparing for the indoor courts.

“We’ve been focusing a lot on short points and quick balls,” Sampras Webster said. “We are a pretty aggressive team so I think the girls will enjoy playing indoors.”

To prepare for the nature of the indoor surface, the team has been practicing on courts that are slightly quicker and with heavier balls. A focus has been placed on not taking huge backswings with the racket as the balls come in faster.

“My transition game will be key in Kentucky,” Hart said. “It’s important that I execute much better with my volleys.”

Women’s water polo
Savannah Shapiro, Daily Bruin staff

The Bruins face another four-game invitational this weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

No. 4 UCLA women’s water polo (5-0) has started off its season undefeated, but barely scraped by with a win against No. 8 Michigan (3-2) in last week’s invite in Santa Barbara.

“We have to continue to work on the small things – being consistent, whether it be from one quarter to the next or one minute to the next, with our energy and how we think,” Wright said. “You can’t have two minutes here of really good focus and then one second of losing our focus. That can be everything.”

The Bruins will face the Wolverines again this weekend, but this time at their home pool. Despite the close matchup last week, Wright said that the Bruins’ defense has been coming along in the recent weeks of training.

“We are not always going to be our best on the offensive end, but if we can play great defense – and we know we are going to have to deal with five-on-six – we can put ourselves in a position at the end of the game to have a chance to win,” Wright said.

In the span of two days, UCLA will play four teams that are all in the top 25 – No. 9 Pacific (0-0), No. 20 Wagner (0-0) and No. 24 Marist (0-3).

Winston Bribach, Daily Bruin reporter

UCLA gymnastics is on the road for its third consecutive week. This time, its destination is Fort Worth, Texas – next-door neighbor to Dallas and the metroplex that sophomore Madison Kocian calls home.

After returning to competition last week following a five-month layoff due to shoulder surgery, Kocian relishes the idea of performing in front of her hometown crowd.

“I’m excited to go home,” Kocian said. “I haven’t seen my family since Christmas. It’ll be exciting to see everyone – my old coaches, some teammates. It’ll be fun.”

No. 4 UCLA (3-0) will be up against three schools in the Metroplex Challenge. The headliner is No. 2 LSU (3-0), a team that has already bested two top-10 opponents this season. North Carolina State (5-0) and No. 14 Washington (2-1) are the other two teams.

“We normally don’t compete against (Southeastern Conference) teams in the regular season,” said sophomore Kyla Ross. “It’s fun to get an opportunity to compete at that high level.”

The meet also represents a return of sorts for Ross. A sprained toe limited her to a single event – the uneven bars – last week. She has been training in all four events and says she is optimistic about being in the all-around competition again.

“Last week, I was only able to compete bars,” Ross said. “I’ve been training this week, and it’s feeling pretty good, so I’m excited to be back in the lineup.”

The Metroplex Challenge will be the Bruins’ final podium meet of the regular season. Because the NCAA championship meet is on a podium, UCLA is using this opportunity to prepare for the postseason.

“We’re taking this as practice for nationals,” said senior Napualani Hall. “We’re even doing what we normally do the day before nationals.”

Men’s tennis
Melissa Zhang, assistant Sports editor

UCLA men’s tennis will compete in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kick-Off Weekend this Saturday and Sunday.

The No. 6 Bruins (4-0) will first face UC Davis on Saturday and then play either UCF or Utah State on Sunday. The winner of the four-team bracket will earn a spot in the ITA Division I National Men’s Team Indoor Championships in February.

UCLA comes into Saturday’s match with four wins under its belt, most recently beating Loyola Marymount 5-2. UC Davis is 1-2 in its season thus far.

“I think in these first few matches we all played really well, … and they’re good confidence boosters, especially for Kick-Off Weekend,” said freshman Bryce Pereira.

UCF comes to the Los Angeles Tennis Center with a 0-1 record, having dropped a match to Florida 6-1 on Monday. Utah State is 2-1.

“Both matches (this weekend) should be tough,” said sophomore Evan Zhu. “I thought we were strong last year. … But with the addition of the new freshmen this year, I think we’re really strong.”

Several rookies have made big impacts for the team this season, including freshman Keegan Smith, who played first singles and doubles during the UCLA vs. Pepperdine game while senior Martin Redlicki was competing at a professional tournament.

“I think we have some really tough matches coming up to earn the right to go to the Indoor National Championships,” said coach Billy Martin. “All the top teams are there. … To not get there is a disadvantage.”

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Sports staff

D'Souza is currently a Sports staff writer for the women's basketball, men's basketball and women's tennis beats. He was previously a reporter for the men's tennis and women's volleyball beats.

Assistant Sports editor

Yekikian is an assistant Sports editor. He was previously a Sports reporter for the women's volleyball and track and field beats.

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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