The Bruins will see many familiar faces next season.
UCLA beach volleyball and women’s volleyball are losing only three seniors total from their starting lineups – Elise Zappia on the beach, outside hitter Reily Buechler and setter Sarah Sponcil for indoor.
But with the addition of new freshmen next season, women’s volleyball coach Michael Sealy said there are no secure positions in the lineup.
“No one has a spot,” Sealy said. “This past year, people got to get real comfortable in their role and didn’t have to compete for it on a daily basis. Next year will be a challenge.”
The indoor team will welcome six recruits for the 2018-19 season – Devon Chang, Lexi Hadrych, Sawyer Aigner-Swesey, Kelsey Campeau, Tristin Savage and Hawley Harrer.
Chang, a setter from Newport Beach, California, was named the 2017-18 Gatorade California Volleyball Player of the Year, totaling 1,171 assists in the 2017-18 season.
“She’s got a ton of setting experience,” Sealy said. “She’s been a high-level player for a while now.”
The Bruins will bring in two liberos in Aigner-Swesey and Campeau. Campeau played in high school for former UCLA women’s volleyball assistant coach Dan O’Dell, who led the Bruins to a national title in 2011 alongside Sealy.
Harrer is a setter and outside hitter from Sisters, Oregon and will be the only dual-sport athlete in this year’s recruiting class, playing for both the indoor and beach teams.
“She’s the ultimate utility,” Sealy said. “She can hit, she can block (and) she can set, and that serves her well on the beach.”
The Bruins had four dual athletes this year playing indoors and on the beach – Sponcil, rising junior Savvy Simo, rising senior Zana Muno and rising sophomore Mac May.
Beach volleyball took home its first-ever NCAA championship this past season – and due to Sponcil’s extra year of eligibility in beach, all four dual athletes will return next year for another chance at a title.
“I knew that (UCLA) was going to get to the top at one point or another,” Sponcil said. “It was a special group and being able to come back again next year and see what we can do … I’m really excited.”
In addition to Harrer, beach volleyball will add incoming freshmen Abby Van Winkle, Lindsey Sparks, Piper Monk-Heidrich, and Jaden Whitmarsh.
Van Winkle is a 6-foot-2 outside hitter from San Clemente, California, and has won the triple crown – Best of the Beach, AAU Nationals and AAU Junior Olympics in beach volleyball, with Sparks.
“This (past) year, of the five top teams, we were the shortest in the country,” said beach volleyball coach Stein Metzger. “So what Abby brings is height – she’s 6-foot-2 and she has great ball control. I’m a sucker for ball control, (so) when you find someone that’s tall and can pass and set, that’s attractive for our team because that’s our style.”
UCLA primarily recruits two different groups of players for indoor and beach, unlike other programs, such as Stanford, which has seven dual athletes.
Metzger said while the learning curve can be steep for both indoor and beach players, everyone in his lineup continues to improve each year.
“Some programs don’t have any beach-only players, some programs have only beach-only players; we’re kind of in the middle,” Metzger said. “With our coaching staff, we give them a lot of great information, and (that’s a) great buy-in.”
Despite the talent of the dual-sport recruits, Sealy said bouncing back and forth from indoor to the sand is not easy on the programs or the athletes.
“All three of us, between the players and the two programs, make sacrifices,” Sealy said. “Moving forward, if there is an elite athlete out there that can benefit both programs, I think we will continue to bring those athletes in. But (neither) program is actively searching for dual kids.”
The Bruins took home a national title on the beach, but fell short in the NCAA regional semifinals indoors. The women’s indoor team will have an opportunity to bounce back with the season starting up in August.