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Women’s volleyball ends NCAA tournament journey with 3-set loss to Wisconsin

Mac May looks to receive the ball in a match Saturday. In her final contest with UCLA women’s volleyball, the graduate student outside hitter/opposite swung for a match-high 17 kills. (Jenny Xu/Daily Bruin)

Women’s volleyball

No. 13 seed UCLA0
No. 4 seed Wisconsin3

By Bryan Palmero

Dec. 9, 2021 5:35 p.m.

This post was updated Dec. 9 at 6:09 p.m.

“Third time’s the charm” did not ring true for the Bruins.

No. 13 seed UCLA (25-6, 16-4 Pac-12) fell to No. 4 seed Wisconsin (28-3, 17-3 Big Ten) in the NCAA regional semifinal on Thursday afternoon, ending its season with a three-set loss in the third round of the tournament. 

With a three-point run punctuated by a kill from graduate student outside hitter/opposite Mac May, the Bruins jumped out to a 9-5 lead – their largest lead of the opening frame. The Badgers responded with seven straight scores to pull out in front.

In a set in which both teams swung for the same number of kills, Wisconsin stood in front with six fewer attack errors. While May led the match with five kills at that point, UCLA tallied a .111 mark overall and trotted out four attackers with negative hitting percentages.

Behind six different players with at least one kill, the Badgers ran away with their post-run advantage to a 25-16 opening set victory.

“We weren’t clicking as well as we (would have) liked to,” May said. “They have a lot of great hitters and they were clicking, unfortunately for us.”

The Bruins scored the first point of the second set with a kill from senior outside hitter/opposite élan McCall but gave up three kills in a row to the opposition to fall behind early. The four scores kicked off a stretch of 10 consecutive kills to open the second period as UCLA continued to lag behind Wisconsin.

It wasn’t until a four-point run, including two aces from McCall, that the Bruins retook its lead. McCall’s efforts from the line marked the blue and gold’s first service aces of the match with the team picking up four service errors to that point. 

After a solo block from May, the blue and gold held the advantage at 15-13, but its hitting woes would plague the next four rallies. Behind four consecutive attack errors, including two into Wisconsin blocks, UCLA’s lead evaporated off its own mistakes.

The four lost points added up to a .229 hitting percentage for the Bruins in the set as the Badgers capitalized with an 8-3 scoring run to close out the period 25-18.

“We’re there with anybody,” said coach Michael Sealy. “We can out-bounce people. We have people flying through the air. We need to play the game cleaner in pressure situations. … We would fight back and then just make a couple errors.”

Wisconsin’s runs continued to break any UCLA momentum in the third stanza as a 7-3 Bruin lead turned into a 9-7 Badger advantage early in the set. The two teams exchanged varying runs to a 14-14 tie, but a four-point Wisconsin stretch stifled any chance at a comeback.

The third set saw UCLA limit the opposition to its lowest hitting percentage in a set, but the blue and gold couldn’t make up the difference as it poured in its lowest hitting mark in an entire match this season at .143. 

Donning the blue and gold for the final time in her five-year collegiate career, May led UCLA with 17 kills and a .351 hitting percentage. Like in her previous match against Wisconsin in the 2019 NCAA tournament, the graduate student led all players in kills and points in the three-set defeat.

The match also marked freshman outside hitter/opposite Charitie Luper’s second straight appearance after returning from injury. After being limited to a back-row role in UCLA’s five-set victory over UCF on Saturday, Luper played to the net as the Bruins rotated her to the outside hitter/opposite position.

Only trailing May in kills for the season, Luper notched five kills in the losing effort – a total that tied for second on the team in the match.

The Bruins’ season is now over without its first regional final berth since 2016. Over the past four seasons, UCLA’s NCAA tournament runs have all ended in three-set losses, including two to Wisconsin within the last three years.

“For us to have a chance to go toe-to-toe with them for more than three sets, you have to be good for longer periods of time, and we weren’t,” Sealy said.

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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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