Extra workouts aren’t how teams usually celebrate a conference title, but that’s what the Bruins did.
Members of the team held plank poses with their elbows on the sand and their Pac-12 trophies laid flat on their backs – the school’s 116th national title on their minds.
“The team has been waiting all year for this moment,” said coach Stein Metzger. “They made the right decisions when they needed to, and we will continue to work on that this week as we train and prepare for NCAAs.”
No. 1 UCLA beach volleyball (35-3) started out the first two weeks of the season 5-3, but has since won 30 consecutive duals.
The Bruins got past crosstown rival USC twice last weekend to win the program’s first-ever Pac-12 title. UCLA fell short in both the 2016 and 2017 postseasons – unable to bring home a conference or national title.
But there’s one thing the team has improved on this season to finally get over the hump: decision making.
“Decision making is what this sport is about,” Metzger said. “It’s a fast sport and you have to make decisions so quickly, so we like to train those decisions so that they’re second nature for the team.”
For UCLA’s No. 2 pair of senior Elise Zappia and freshman Mac May, Zappia said the coaching this year has trained their anticipation.
“(The coaches have) challenged me to be one step ahead of the hitter and predict and think about what they’re going to do next,” Zappia said.
Zappia also added that decision making has contributed to her partnership chemistry with May and their abilities to make defensive plays.
The duo averaged just 15.9 points allowed per set during the Pac-12 championship last weekend, good for second best on the team. Sophomores Savvy Simo and Madi Yeomans averaged a team-best of 15.25, earning them all-tournament team honors.
The two pairs were the only to win all four matches in straight sets.
“We’ve been challenged to make better decisions on defense, run different things, be creative and always mixed it up,” Zappia said. “(We) play to win with intent, instead of by accident.”
The five-pair, all-tournament team also included UCLA’s No. 1 and No. 2 pairs. Juniors Nicole and Megan McNamara, who have won their last 24 of 26 matches on court one, attributed their success to first-year volunteer assistant coach Jeff Alzina.
“(Alzina) has really connected with Nicole (McNamara) and I,” Megan McNamara said. “He brings out our most aggressive style, and it’s great because before games he’ll just totally pump us up.”
Alzina coached both Metzger and assistant coach Jenny Johnson Jordan while they were playing professionally. He also boasts experience from coaching national teams of eight different countries.
“It’s been awesome to have somebody who really taught (Johnson) and (Metzger) a lot of what they teach us already,” Zappia said.
The Bruins were announced as the No. 1 seed in Sunday’s selection show for this weekend’s NCAA championship. UCLA will have the next few days to absorb any last-minute wisdom from its coaching staff as the Bruins enter their last week of the season.
“(The coaches) have instilled into us how to make the right decisions at the right time,” Megan McNamara said. “We are playing better volleyball in the wind and we’re able to close out tight matches. The culture that they have coached and created has been really effective for us this year.”