Nonconference play is wrapping up.
UCLA women’s volleyball (5-3) will travel to UC Santa Barbara (8-1) for its last nonconference game of the season.
Pac-12 play starts Sept. 25 against No. 20 USC. In starting up against a conference with six ranked opponents, redshirt sophomore middle blocker Emily Ryan said the Bruins’ games against nonconference opponents prepared them for facing strong defensive teams that can extend rallies in conference play.
“They’ve shown us that we can play in long rallies, and we can take five to 10 swings in a rally and just keep composed,” Ryan said. “That is definitely a huge lesson. … We have USC as our first (Pac-12) game, and we’re more prepared now that we’re capable of holding those long rallies.”
The Gauchos have lost only one game coming into Wednesday’s contest and are riding a six-game winning streak. UCSB only loss was a 3-1 defeat that came at the hands of Colorado, a conference foe UCLA will face later this season.
UCLA is coming off of a trip to Hawaii, during which it collected wins over Utah Valley and West Virginia, but finished the trip with a loss to then-No. 18 Hawai’i. All three games, and every one of the Bruins’ games so far this season, were sweeps.
Just four teams in the nation have played only three sets in every game this season – Grambling, Montana, South Carolina State and UCLA. However, the Bruins have managed to win multiple matches, whereas the other three teams have a combined 1-26 record.
“It’s not like we’re not focused, it’s just a weird anomaly,” said coach Michael Sealy. “There’s no rhyme or reason to that because a lot of the sets have been really close, so we should have lost one of them or won one of them by now.”
Junior outside hitter Mac May and senior outside hitter Savvy Simo have been leading the Bruins on the attack, collecting 112 and 67 kills through the first eight games, respectively. Each has also collected two double-doubles so far this season, including both recording one versus Utah Valley.
“We’re a little left-side dominant, which means we’re setting a lot of balls to the left side,” Sealy said. “So (Simo and May) get a lot of kills, and deservedly so, they’re both playing really well, but we’re definitely trying to diversify the offense a little more.”
Among the six ranked Pac-12 teams UCLA will face during conference play are reigning champions No. 2 Stanford and No. 10 Washington. Sophomore defensive specialist/libero Kelli Barry said that the Bruins’ three games versus ranked opponents during nonconference play, including a game against now-No. 1 Nebraska, were essential for the team to gain experience against higher-level opponents before starting Pac-12 play.
“We have a very, very strong conference,” Barry said. “I think in order for us to go into conference with the right mindset, we had to play those games to know how we needed to grow as a team and know what we need to work on leading up to conference play.”
The Bruins and Gauchos will face off at 6 p.m. in the Thunderdome.