Every game for the Bruins this season has been won or lost via the sweep.
UCLA women’s volleyball (5-3) came away from the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Volleyball Challenge in Honolulu with wins over Utah Valley (2-8) and West Virginia (5-4), but closed out the weekend with a loss to the host team, No. 18 Hawai’i (9-0). Just as with the Bruins’ previous five matches this season, all three games were sweeps.
UCLA first faced off against Utah Valley Thursday night. The first set was tied at nine apiece, but the Bruins went on a run, scoring 16 of the last 22 points to win the set 25-15. UCLA was trailing in the second set 13-11, but another run of six straight points gave the Bruins the lead on the way to a 25-20 set win. UCLA closed out the sweep with a 25-19 third set where the Bruins’ only deficit was on the first point of the set.
“We just came out strong,” said sophomore transfer defensive specialist Kelli Barry. “I think we were just really disciplined the whole game, we knew what our job was, each person knew what they were supposed to be doing, and we just executed really well.”
Senior outside hitter Savvy Simo recorded her second double-double in a row against the Wolverines, picking up a career-high 15 kills along with 11 digs. Junior outside hitter Mac May also recorded 16 kills and 13 digs for her first double-double of the season.
“(Simo has) been playing great, and obviously going into this season we knew she had a live arm,” said head coach Michael Sealy. “I think she would have had more opportunities in the past, but she was always nursing a bad back or this or that. We were trying to save her to make sure she could play back row, but she’s been really healthy so we’ve been utilizing her arm as much as we can.”
UCLA started off its match against West Virginia Friday with a 25-9 first set win. Though the score was tied early at 4-4, it was all Bruins after that, scoring 21 of the last 25, including a nine-point streak, to win the set.
“We just said to ourselves, ‘Even though the score is such a big gap, we know they’re going to come back harder in the next set,’” said redshirt sophomore middle blocker Emily Ryan. “We also just made sure our focus was on us, not the score, because I feel like when we focus too much on the score we get a little anxious.”
There were seven ties and four lead changes in the second set, until UCLA pulled away to take the set 25-18. The Mountaineers kept the score close throughout the third set and saved two match points after trailing 24-22, but the Bruins were able to pull out a 27-25 set win to finish the match.
UCLA served a season-best eight aces in the sweep, along with recording a .344 hitting percentage. May led the Bruins in kills with 18, adding 10 digs for her second double-double in as many days.
Along with its offensive output, UCLA also found success at the net, picking up 10 blocks in each of the first two games. Ryan, who had five blocks versus Utah Valley and two versus West Virginia, said that the Bruins have been specifically focusing on their defense in the past few weeks.
“We come in and we do what we call our ‘fix-it’ part of practice,” Ryan said. “I feel like with the practice over the last couple of weeks before coming to Hawai’i, and with all of our other preseason matches, we improved so much more on connecting, and timing, which I thought was very needed and very valuable.”
In their final game of the weekend, UCLA faced off against Hawai’i. The Bruins led for just one point in the opening set, as the Rainbow Warriors took the set 25-15. UCLA was trailing again in the second set 22-13, but rattled off a 9-1 run to close the gap to one point. But UCLA’s run wasn’t enough to overcome Hawai’i as the Rainbow Warriors took the set 25-22.
The Bruins had their best shot to win a set in the third, leading as late as 22-20 in a set that featured 13 ties and seven lead changes. But UCLA was unable to hold on, and Hawai’i sealed the win with a 25-23 set win.
“I think coming into it we knew they were a very strong team, and we knew what our assignments were, but I don’t feel like we were hitting them all when it got close to the end,” Ryan said. “We were kind of overworking ourselves, we were thinking about doing too much, and what (associate head coach Brad Keller) always says is ‘less is more’ and at that point we were doing a lot more, and overthinking the little things, and that’s what gave it to them.”
The Bruins will play their final nonconference game of the season on the road versus UC Santa Barbara (8-1) Wednesday before returning to Pauley Pavilion for the start of Pac-12 play.