UCLA women’s volleyball sweeps Wildcats with new offensive leadership
Redshirt senior middle blocker Anna Dodson (left) high fives freshman setter Ashley Mullen (right). (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Nov. 6, 2023 11:31 a.m.
The killer was stalled, but the heist still occurred.
Senior opposite/oustide hitter Iman Ndiaye – the team leader in kills – posted a sub-.1 hitting clip for just the fifth time this season.
But despite an atypical performance from its top offensive player, UCLA women’s volleyball (14-10, 6-8 Pac-12) swept Arizona (6-19, 1-13) at home Sunday. Without the trademark performances of UCLA’s block and kill leaders, sophomores opposite/outside hitter Grayce Olson and outside hitter Cheridyn Leverette propelled UCLA’s offense as the two led the Bruins with 11 and 10 kills, respectively.
Coach Alfee Reft said Ndiaye’s dependability at the service line was on display throughout the team’s three-game set.
“Iman and Anna (redshirt senior middle blocker Anna Dodson) contributed in other ways – from the service line, defensively – so it’s a great team win for us in that regard,” Reft said. “We did a great job of just hitting the right targets.”
Dodson recorded three less kills than Ndiaye but similarly redeemed the performance with one service ace to combine with her fellow senior’s three.
A Wildcat service error, a significant internal foe of the afternoon, introduced a set point for the Bruins in the second frame, while a home ace from freshman defensive specialist/libero Sydney Breon raised the third-set score to match point.
After a loss of offensive momentum in Friday’s 3-0 loss to Arizona State, Ndiaye said keeping control Sunday was imperative.
“We learned a lot from Friday’s game, and it was definitely an intention for us in the following contest to fix this for this next game, and I think it allowed us to run a lot smoother,” Ndiaye said. “Serving – I think that was the foundation for us playing a lot more steady.”
While neither of the two teams’ members has posted a Pac-12 individual weekly honor since 2021, Arizona’s top players kept things close, losing set one in its slimmest margin since Oct. 27. Led offensively by outside hitter Jordan Wilson, whose 13 kills were only detracted by two errors, the Wildcats outpaced the Bruins in both kills and assists.
But by the end of the second set, graduate student middle blocker Desiree Becker’s .800 hitting percentage surpassed all players’, as she ultimately concluded the contest with a game-high .833.
The rotation of Bruins in the spotlight is exactly what Reft said makes them special.
“Something we certainly preach to our team is we can win in a lot of areas,” Reft said. “That’s the trait of a great team, and we’re still trying to develop those pieces even more. We certainly have them – we’re seeing it, we saw that tonight with Cheridyn and Grayce.”
Combined with a game-high 10-dig performance from junior defensive specialist/libero Peyton Dueck, the team’s ability to maintain momentum in oscillating rallies kept the crowd on its feet through to the final seconds of the affair.
Becker said the team’s cohesive strategy keeps the Bruins locked in.
“Just focusing on coordination between our ball and defense, that’s something that we’ve honed in on,” Becker said. “Moving as a system and as an organism as opposed to individuals.”
The Bruins have come a long way since being the Wildcats’ sole victims amid 13 conference losses, notching four more wins before Sunday as Arizona’s victory count remained constant. And at the end of the day, it was Ndiaye who secured the final point – one last kill to carve in the Bruin sweep.
“We were just ready to bounce back,” Becker said. “I think it was a competitive mindset-thing, a big switch.”