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UCLA women’s volleyball sweeps Rider in 1st round of NCAA tournament

Junior outside hitter/opposite élan McCall notched nine kills on 13 total attacks as No. 15 UCLA women’s volleyball defeated Rider in straight sets Wednesday. (Lauren Man/Assistant Photo editor)

Women’s Volleyball

No. 15 UCLA3

By Bryan Palmero

April 14, 2021 9:02 p.m.

This post was updated April 14 at 10:27 p.m.

The Bruins spoiled the Broncs’ return to the tournament.

No. 15 UCLA women’s volleyball (15-6, 14-6 Pac-12) swept Rider (7-5, 4-4 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) in Omaha, Nebraska, on Wednesday night, never trailing throughout the game.

After winning their conference tournament April 3 – their first MAAC title since joining the conference – the Broncs made their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1996. The Bruins, on the other hand, returned for their second straight tournament appearance and their 37th playoff run since the NCAA adopted a tournament 40 years ago.

Coach Michael Sealy pointed out the difference in tournament experience between the two programs and how it played into his team’s emotions entering the game.

“If you’re in a situation you’ve been in before, it’s not as scary, not as daunting,” Sealy said. “But it’s how the new people who have never been in the tournament react to it, and I think our upper class does a good job of keeping them focused on (the) task at hand, so that it can be an exciting, fun experience.” 

Wednesday’s game also marked the first inter-conference play and meeting for both teams all season. The Pac-12 and MAAC opted for a conference-only schedule for its teams.

After the Broncs committed a service error to start the game, the Bruins followed with two straight kills from senior outside hitter/opposite Mac May, who finished with 14 kills on the night as the blue and gold more than doubled its opponent’s first-set scoring with a 25-12 victory.

May, who secured the AVCA All-Region award Tuesday after leading the Pac-12 in total kills, was fed the ball by her teammates as she led all players with 22 attacks.

“It’s a lot of being patient and knowing when to go for it in green-light situations,” May said. “I think our setters did a good job getting the rhythm down and working with the passes and such. I think the rhythm just comes by being patient and knowing when to strike.”

The UCLA 6-2 offense was commanded by freshman setters Audrey Pak and Kate Lane as both combined for 37 assists as the team finished with a 0.567 hitting percentage. Rider was unable to duplicate that performance and accrued more errors than successful kills for a -0.013 clip. 

Sealy added he was initially worried about Rider before the game, but mentioned that the team’s deficiencies in other areas put an end to that.

“I was watching them serve in warmups, and they served really tough in warmups so I was a little nervous about that,” Sealy said. “They didn’t pass the ball very well, so they made our job easier.”

The second set stuck to the same script, with its first points coming off a serve from junior outside hitter/opposite élan McCall. Throughout the frame, the Bruins went for runs of five and eight consecutive points and outperformed their first set performance en route to a 25-8 triumph.

The offense was spread out throughout the team, as over seven UCLA players notched points in the set. The final kill and point of the set by McCall gave the Bruins their largest margin of victory of the game.

McCall, whose nine kills and 10 points were second in the team’s offensive output to May, said her team’s collective performance makes them a versatile threat in the tournament.

“I love playing with Mac,” McCall said. “I think we have a lot of weapons in our toolbox, it’s not like one or the other, I think we’re all pretty confident in our abilities and we know everyone can score.”

By the third set, UCLA took out its starters in a period that featured redshirt sophomore middle blocker Tristin Savage and junior defensive specialist/libero Kelli Barry.

Savage and Barry made their first appearance for the Bruins in over a month as the Broncs were unable to capitalize and fell 25-9.

“I think we have a lot of young people on our team and some older people such as myself who have never been in a tournament,” McCall said. “It was nice to get some jitters out and just know what is coming and what to expect.”

With the win, UCLA will advance to the second round Thursday night. Awaiting them is No. 16 BYU, which as a seeded team, was granted a bye to start the tournament.

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Bryan Palmero | Assistant Sports editor
Palmero is currently an assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats. He was previously a contributor on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats.
Palmero is currently an assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats. He was previously a contributor on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats.
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