The Bruins will face two teams for the first time in program history this weekend.
“We’re excited to go to Hawaii … and playing them first will be (an honor) and exciting to do,” said sophomore setter/opposite Hawley Harrer.
UCLA women’s volleyball (3-2) will travel to Honolulu for the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Volleyball Challenge, where the Bruins will face three opponents in three days, including two teams they have never faced before. UCLA will play Utah Valley (2-5) on Thursday night, West Virginia (4-2) on Friday, and finish with a match versus the host team, Hawai’i (6-0), on Saturday.
All three of the tournament’s matches will be played in University of Hawai’i’s Stan Sheriff Center, an arena that coach Michael Sealy said is one of the most exciting places to play.
“They have a great volleyball culture … and they just appreciate great volleyball,” Sealy said. “When they sell out, it’s 10,000 people, and they have very knowledgeable fans, and they’re very loving toward the opponents.”
The Bruins will first take on Utah Valley on Thursday night. The Wolverines had a difficult start to the season, facing three ranked opponents in the first two weeks and being swept by all of them.
Friday’s matchup will be against West Virginia, which started the season with four straight wins, but will come into this weekend having lost its last two matches.
It will be the first time the Bruins have faced either team in the history of the program, though Sealy said he doesn’t want that to distract the Bruins from the game.
“For us, an opponent’s an opponent, it’s not like we lined that up, we just agreed to play in the tournament in Hawaii,” Sealy said. “So we’re just trying to view the opponent across the net as just a set of shirts, and it doesn’t matter who it is.”
No. 18 Hawai’i is the only team at the tournament that UCLA has history with, as the teams had faced off every season since 1974 except last year, when a hurricane forced a cancellation. Though the Bruins have won the last four meetings in Honolulu, the Rainbow Wahine are undefeated to start the 2019 season, including a 3-1 upset over No. 12 Washington.
“We just need to approach every game the same, and stay composed,” said senior outside hitter Savvy Simo. “A lot of it is just focusing on our side of the net, so I don’t think we’re going to take any team lightly or more seriously, we’ll just show up every day and be consistent.”
The Bruins will be without senior setter Cali Thompson for the second weekend in a row, after the transfer – who had been expected to be a regular starter for UCLA – sprained her ankle in the first match of the season against Baylor.
Instead, Sealy has been testing out a new formation for the team, where the Bruins will play two setters – Harrer and sophomore Devon Chang.
“(Thompson) had been our starter, and unfortunately, she sprained her ankle on the third play of the season, and that was it,” Sealy said. “This is the first time we’ve ever run a 6-2 with this group, so we’re just still getting used to a two-setter offense. The hitters are hitting off different setters and different formations in the offense, so it’s just getting used to it that will make things cleaner.”
Thursday’s match against Utah Valley will start at 7:45 p.m.