The Bruins have been persistently studying the wind.
In practice Tuesday, the team hauled portable nets down to the Santa Monica beaches to imitate a wind direction that it will face in its last regular season match.
“Going to the beach and getting as much wind (experience) as we can is always going to help us,” said junior Sarah Sponcil. “When it comes down to wind, it’s all about ball control, and I think our ball control has gotten so much better (since the beginning of the season).”
No. 1 UCLA beach volleyball (30-3) will travel to No. 6 Long Beach State (23-5) on Thursday afternoon. At the beginning of the season, the Bruins suffered a 5-0 skid to then-No. 5 Hawai’i and then lost back-to-back matches as a result of wind.
UCLA will have an opportunity Thursday to tackle another sequence of wind conditions to prepare it for the postseason.
“The wind practices are super helpful,” said freshman Megan Muret. “Yesterday, we set up courts specifically in the angle of wind that it’s going to be like at Long Beach, so we’re really preparing ourselves for what nature has to throw at us.”
Coach Stein Metzger said the team has struggled with wind each year and therefore specifically designed Tuesday’s practice in preparation to play on the 49ers’ home courts.
“There is a pretty consistent wind that comes off the right side corner on the beaches in Los Angeles,” Metzger said. “(But) in Long Beach it actually comes off the on the left, so what we did was we took our portable nets and adjusted it so that the wind was coming off the left corner like Long Beach so that they could prepare for that kind of wind.”
The Bruins swept the 49ers two weeks ago, dropping just one set by two points.
Sponcil and sophomore Lily Justine – who consistently play on court two – competed in the only match that went to three sets. The pair is riding a 10-match win streak, which earned the two their first Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Pair of the Week honors.
“We did a good job closing out,” Sponcil said. “They just gave us a run for our money for sure. But I think for tomorrow, (if) we take care of the pass and the serve, … I feel prepared for tomorrow.”
Sponcil said the duo has been working to improve its overall offensive game and that doing so with windy conditions has been beneficial.
“We’ve been working a lot on offensive stuff,” Sponcil said. “Passing in the wind is something I think we’ve been doing well at when we go to the beach. (We worked on) serving sidelines and having different serves for the wind.”
Because of the blowout victory against Long Beach two weeks ago, Metzger said he wouldn’t be surprised if Long Beach mixed up its lineup on each court.
“We need to show up and be aggressive and take the game and not wait for someone to lose,” Metzger said. “They’ve grasped onto that, and I think that’s our identity now.”
UCLA’s 30 wins tie the program record for most wins in a season. Should UCLA take down Long Beach for a second time this month, the Bruins will break that record and head into the Pac-12 Tournament as the nation’s top-ranked team.