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UCLA women’s volleyball advances in NCAA tournament after comeback victory

Graduate student outside hitter/opposite Mac May and senior defensive specialist Zoe Fleck celebrate Dec. 4. May finished with 25 kills for No. 13 seed UCLA women’s volleyball’s come-from-behind victory over UCF in the second round of the NCAA tournament. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)

Women’s Volleyball

No. 13 seed UCLA3

By David Deng

Dec. 4, 2021 9:59 p.m.

This post was updated Dec. 4 at 11:17 p.m.

The Bruins trailed by three points and were one set loss away from ending their season.

Then, the crowd stood up.

“For us seniors – this was going to be it if we lost,” said graduate setter Shelby Martin. “We had nothing else to lose and we really kicked it in gear, especially when the crowd stood up.”

Coming out of a timeout, the blue and gold would exchange runs of two points in the fourth set before it raced away with seven straight scores to take the advantage and eventually the match. 

No. 13 seed UCLA women’s volleyball (25-5, 16-4 Pac-12) defeated UCF (27-7, 19-1 American Athletic Conference) by a score of 3-2 on Saturday night. After dropping the first set and falling behind 2-1, the Bruins came back and won the final two frames to advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament.

For the second consecutive match, the Bruins fell behind early in the first set, trailing 5-2. After the blue and gold retook the advantage with a block assist from graduate student outside hitter/opposite Mac May and freshman middle blocker Francesca Alupei, the Knights scored five consecutive points, four off Bruin errors, to lead 14-10. 

UCLA slowly chipped away at the deficit, buoyed by 11 digs from senior defensive specialist/libero Zoe Fleck and 12 total kills and digs from senior outside hitter/opposite élan McCall in the set. After tying the match at 21, the teams would alternate the next eight points, before a kill and a solo block from UCF outside hitter Heidi Bonde handed UCLA its first set loss of the tournament.

The Bruins came out with six unanswered points to open the second period, including five straight kills from May. May’s scoring run gave UCLA its largest lead of the tournament until that point, after the blue and gold never led by more than four points in its sweep over Fairfield on Friday night. The lead ballooned to double-digits as the Bruins were up by as much as 13 points en route to a 25-13 set victory.

Graduate student outside hitter/opposite Mac May goes for a kill. May’s 25 kills led the match to go with her three service aces and eight digs. (Jenny Xu/Daily Bruin)

After twelve ties and three lead changes in the first set, the second period saw none of either. UCLA out-hit UCF .312 to .000 in the frame, while limiting Knight outside hitter McKenna Melville – who averaged an AAC-leading 4.98 kills per set in the regular season – to just two kills on fifteen swings in the period.

UCLA again opened an early lead in the third stanza, winning seven of the first eight points. After trailing by as much as six, the Knights came back to tie the match at 16 and outscored the Bruins 9-3 the rest of the way. Having recorded six kills in the second set, UCF had 14 in the third, distributing kills among seven different players.

Losing the first two points of the fourth frame, UCF rattled off three consecutive scores and opened up a 13-9 lead. With May at the service line, UCLA scored six straight, including two consecutive service aces from the outside hitter/opposite. 

The Knights reclaimed the lead with three consecutive points, but the Bruins grabbed the lead for good with two kills from McCall and a service ace from freshman Charitie Luper, finishing off the set 25-22 with a tip kill from sophomore outside hitter/opposite Iman Ndiaye.

May said the home crowd’s presence helped fuel the comeback. 

“It gave our team a little bit of a push to get through that deficit,” May said. “It’s awesome having your home crowd behind you and it’s incredible to have that energy carry you through while we were down.”

In the fifth set, UCLA opened up a 7-1 lead off the heels of May’s four kills and three blocks. The Knights would fail to score more than two consecutive points during the frame, and an attack error would end the match in favor of the Bruins.

Freshman middle blocker Francesca Alupei recorded four blocks and a kill in the decisive frame, while McCall had three kills. 

May led the Bruins with 25 kills, while McCall posted a double-double with a season-high 17 kills and 19 digs. Martin recorded 49 assists and 13 digs, while Fleck tallied a career-high 29 digs and eight assists. Ndiaye had nine kills and a career-high 10 blocks, two of them on Melville in the fifth set. 

When we talk about the defensive play you can’t overlook Iman’s ten blocks,” said coach Michael Sealy. “McKenna Melville is one of the better pins in the country, to finally get the matchup where we get Iman in front of her puts a ton of stress and chaos in front of her to help shut her down.”

Luper, who hadn’t played since Oct. 31, started the match. The outside hitter/opposite, who was initially ruled out for the season before receiving a different diagnosis, according to a team spokesperson, tallied a kill, a service ace and six digs. The freshman, who averaged 3.75 kills per set during the season, played entirely out of the back row during the contest. 

UCLA will advance to play No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the third round of the NCAA tournament Thursday.

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David Deng | Sports staff
Deng is currently a Sports staffer on the men's volleyball beat. He was previously a reporter on the gymnastics and women's volleyball beat and a contributor on the cross country and track & field beats.
Deng is currently a Sports staffer on the men's volleyball beat. He was previously a reporter on the gymnastics and women's volleyball beat and a contributor on the cross country and track & field beats.
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