Sweeps have become almost commonplace for the Bruins this season.
UCLA women’s volleyball (8-5, 3-1 Pac-12) swept through its nonconference schedule with nine straight three-set matches, as the Bruins were not forced to play past the minimum number of sets in a win or loss until the fourth week of the season.
The streak ended in UCLA’s first conference matchup versus rival then-No. 25 USC, when the Bruins fought back after dropping the first set to win the match in five sets. Junior outside hitter Mac May said being able to finally break through and come back from a deficit was a turning point for the team.
“It was kind of a joke for a while, like, ‘We don’t play more than three sets,’” May said. “But I think when we were down (against USC), it was like having that extra mental push to say, ‘We’re going to fight through and get to another set.’ So we did finally crack that, and now that we’ve played four and five (sets), it’s great for us, because we know we can win in the long run.”
The Bruins returned to their trend of straight-set matches in their next two games. UCLA first swept Arizona State and followed that up with a three-set upset of No. 24 Washington State.
Senior outside hitter Savvy Simo said being able to consistently beat teams without giving up a set makes a statement about the Bruins’ potential in critical games.
“I think it’s intimidating for other teams to see that, and that we’re here to play,” Simo said. “We have a lot to prove, and we have a lot of talent, so I think teams should be a little intimidated to play us, because we’re coming.”
Though UCLA finished Sunday with a 3-1 loss to then-No. 8 Washington, coach Michael Sealy said the final score doesn’t always reflect the reality of how the match went.
He specifically referenced the Bruins’ games against both the Cougars and Huskies, as the sets in each match were equally close and decided by just a few points, but with opposite outcomes for UCLA.
“The sweep thing, it doesn’t matter – it honestly comes down to one play,” Sealy said. “Our goal isn’t to go sweep people, our goal isn’t to (avoid the sweep). If you play five, you play five, if you play three, you play three.”
The Bruins have still only had to play three sets over the minimum this season, and they average the fewest sets per match out of any Pac-12 team.
May said winning games in sweeps becomes more and more important as the Bruins get deeper into the season and closer to playoffs, as playing the fewest sets possible gives UCLA an advantage in energy levels over opponents.
“Physically, we don’t get as tired when we handle business and pick a team apart and take them in three,” May said. “It’s huge for us, because we get out of the gym quicker, get off our feet quicker, which is great in the long run.”
But May also said short games could prevent the team from gaining experience in high-pressure situations and getting the chance to test out different offensive schemes and personnel groups.
“It has its pros and cons,” May said. “Sometimes you’re like, ‘It’s only a 90-minute game, I wish I would have played more, I wish we could have gotten more people in, we could have run some more things.’”
UCLA will continue Pac-12 play as it goes on the road this weekend to visit No. 18 Utah (11-4, 3-1) on Friday and Colorado (8-6, 0-4) on Sunday.