Weekend preview: Jan. 20
Redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman is back with No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo after taking two seasons off to purse the Olympics. Musselman and the Bruins will open their season Friday against No. 23 Wagner College. (Daily Bruin file photo)
Women’s Water Polo
Ricardo Garcia, Daily Bruin reporter
Friday will mark the start of a new season for the Bruins.
Coming off a loss in the 2021 NCAA championship game, No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo will open the 2022 season with five games in three days at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational. The blue and gold will first take on No. 23 Wagner College on Friday before ultimately closing out the invitational with a matchup against the host team, No. 18 UCSB, on Sunday.
Coach Adam Wright said although last season didn’t end the way he hoped it would, the experience of a deep postseason run was valuable for his team.
“For all those girls, it was their first time,” Wright said. “Your first time in a situation can bring on a wave of different emotions and feelings and angst and stress. That’s why I say we’re going to be better served from being in that position.”
The Bruins will also welcome Maddie Musselman back to Westwood this season. The redshirt senior attacker spent the previous two seasons training with Team USA for the Tokyo Olympics, where Musselman led her squad to a gold medal and garnered tournament MVP honors.
Wright said Musselman’s return makes the team better because of her impact on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
“I know the group is going to lean on her, even though we don’t want to put more on her than just being herself,” Wright said. “But it’s a normal part of the process, and who would we rather have than her?”
With five games in one weekend, Wright also said the tournament will provide opportunities for players to start filling out roles for themselves for the season.
“It’s not that normal to play that many games, but we like it out of the gates,” Wright said. “It gives us the ability to look at different rotations. We’re taking a little bit larger roster than we normally do because you got to start making decisions as you go into conference (play).”
The Bruins open their season Friday afternoon against the Seahawks in Santa Barbara.
Bryan Palmero, assistant Sports editor
Pauley Pavilion lies in the heart of UCLA’s 419-acre campus.
Throughout the years, the near-14,000 capacity facility has been the home for a handful of blue and gold teams – including UCLA men’s volleyball.
But when the Bruins serve off for their first matches of the season at the storied stadium this weekend, coach John Speraw said there’s a few things his team will still need to get used to.
“Anytime you go to Pauley, it’s a little bit different,” Speraw said. “It’s always so big, and when you’re playing volleyball, depth perception is pretty important. You’re tossing that ball up when you’re serving, and it appears a little different. It’s like playing outside, so we’ll have to adapt to that.”
No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (1-0) will make the short 4-minute walk to Pauley Pavilion from the John Wooden Center this weekend. Taking on Ohio State (3-0) on Friday and Penn State (4-0) on Saturday in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge, the blue and gold will enter the weekend’s matches playing its first contests at the stadium this year.
After starting its competitive season at the John Wooden Center last weekend with a win against Princeton, UCLA’s arena adjustment won’t be the only difference the team will face this weekend, Speraw said.
The Bruins last took on the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions in the 2020 edition of the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge in Happy Valley. Prior to this year, that 2020 campaign marked the last time UCLA officially took on a nonconference opponent, having faced a MPSF-only slate in 2021.
Ahead of the weekend’s matchups, Speraw said high praise regarding his opponents – particularly the Nittany Lions, who swept the Bruins in the two teams’ last meeting.
“Penn State has an exceptional team,” Speraw said. “They’re bringing a lot of players that have been together for a long period of time. We can look at past seasons and have some idea of what they’re doing, but they’re smooth.”