It’s time to mix things up.
After sticking with a consistent starting lineup last season, UCLA women’s volleyball is starting this season with a range of new options.
“We could have thrown four or five different lineups out there and been really successful,” said coach Michael Sealy, following UCLA’s preseason exhibition win over UC Santa Barbara. “But for us, it’s which lineup do you go with and why.”
The Bruins added seven freshmen to their roster this year – filling key positions after the loss of seniors setter Sarah Sponcil and outside hitter Reily Buechler.
Freshman setter and opposite Hawley Harrer played both positions in Saturday’s straight-set win over the Gauchos, posting 11 assists and four kills at the net.
Harrer said, after primarily being a hitter throughout her high school career, that it was exciting to make some plays as a setter.
“(You) kind of have to switch gears,” Harrer said. “(But) it’s really fun. You get to control the game (and) you know who it’s going to.”
Fellow freshmen setter Devon Chang and libero Sawyer Aigner-Swesey also took the court in the second and third sets of the exhibition, with Chang recording one kill and nine assists.
“I remember my first match in uniform and how scary it was,” Sealy said. “So I was glad to see that the freshmen got here (and) they all played fantastic. That’s not an easy thing to do.”
The NCAA allowed women’s volleyball exhibition games for the first time this year, giving the Bruins an opportunity to get loose before the official start of the 2018 season.
While it is good experience, Sealy said the match was not an indicator of how the team will perform throughout the year.
“Zero bearing,” Sealy said. “It’s nice to play in front of people in bigger lights, but I don’t think it has a bearing on future matches.”
The Bruins took down the Gauchos 25-15 in the first set and 25-18 in the second. The third set was knotted at 20-20, but UCLA prevailed 25-23 .
Sophomore opposite Mac May – who was named to the Preseason All-Pac-12 Team – led UCLA, posting 13 total kills with a .500 hitting percentage.
Sophomore outside hitter Jenny Mosser and senior middle blocker Kyra Rogers tallied another nine and seven kills, respectively, with Rogers slamming one to clinch the match in the third set.
“It’s a lot different coming back as a sophomore,” Mosser said. “You’re not the nervous little freshman anymore. It’s kind of a confidence boost as well, knowing the team trusts you and you know what you’re doing.”
Given the depth on this year’s roster, Sealy said the full starting lineup is undetermined, with the setter position being the biggest one up for grabs.
Chang, Harrer and junior Kylie Miller all set against the Gauchos, one in each game. Sealy said they all showed the potential to be a starter.
“I didn’t expect all of them to be as far along as they are,” Sealy said. “That’s the biggest challenge for me is they’ve all developed so much in the last couple of weeks and we can win with all three of them.”
The Bruins reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last year and will look to start strong again this season, facing Kansas State, Gonzaga and Hawai’i in the season-opening Wahine Volleyball Classic next weekend.
“This was a good start,” Mosser said. “It’s good to shake off the rust (and) get going and I think it’ll really help us prepare for Hawai’i.”