Over the past week, four Bruin non-revenue teams were in action in conference tournament action, all hoping to bring conference titles back to Westwood and set themselves up for prime position for a deep NCAA tournament run, and hopefully, snap UCLA's current NCAA title drought (no national titles since 2011, no men's titles since 2008 . . . you're doing a heckuva job there Chianti Dan). It was a rather mixed bag, with some elimination, some near-eliminations, but one dominating team performance and an outstanding individual performance. With that, let's take a look at how each squad fared.
- Beginning with the #4-ranked men's volleyball team, Coach John Speraw's first season began with the hope that he would inherit the proud legacy of Coach Al Scates and return to Westwood to lead his alma mater to a national title, having just won a national title at UC Irvine the year prior. Unfortunately, that hope came to a premature end at the hands of the BYU Cougars on Thursday at the MPSF conference tourney semi-final, with UCLA falling in five sets, 3-2 (25-23, 25-21, 18-25, 24-26, 10-15). The Bruins raced out to a two-set lead, but couldn't close the game out, losing the next three sets to give BYU a dramatic come-from-behind win in Provo. Gonzalo Quiroga led UCLA with 22 kills, while Dane Worley (14 kills), Robart Page (11 kills), and Trent Kersten (11 kills) all notched double-digit kills. BYU went on to win the conference tourney and earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, being hosted at Pauley Pavilion, where they'll meet up with Loyola-Chicago, Penn State, and UC Irvine in the Final Four. With the loss to BYU, UCLA finishes Coach Speraw's first year at 21-11 overall and 16-8 in conference play.
- Turning to the #4-seeded women's water polo team, the Lady Bruins traveled to Berkeley this weekend for the MPSF conference tournament, and got the weekend off to a good start, dropping #5-seeded Cal in their home pool 4-3 in the conference quarterfinal. Cal got off to an early lead, putting up 3 goals through the second quarter before the Bruins notched back a pair before half to go into halftime down by just one. In the final quarter, UCLA turned it on, with Sami Hill (11 saves) shutting the Bears out and Rachel Fattal (3 goals) scoring two goals to grab the late win. However, the Bruins' luck would run out in the semi-final, as the Bruins couldn't keep up with high-powered #1-seeded Stanford, losing 11-7. Danielle Ferraro led UCLA with a brace, and Fattal scored her fourth goal of the tourney, and despite four other Bruins scoring, Stanford was able to out-muscle the Bruins to put up a near-dozen. With the loss, the Lady Bruins turned their attention to the third-place game against #3-seeded Arizona State, needing the win to boost their NCAA tournament at-large bid credentials. With their backs against the wall, the Lady Bruins came up with a big win, dropping the Sun Devils, 10-7. Fattal grabbed another pair of goals, with Becca Dorst also notching two scores to lead UCLA, while Sami Hill put up 10 saves to help lead the Bruins to (hopefully) an at-large NCAA tournament berth. The Lady Bruins will find out their fate shortly, as the NCAA selection show is set for 5 p.m. PST.
- Turning to women's tennis, the Lady Bruins were in individual action at the Pac-12 tournament in Ojai (which unlike the men's tournament, is not a team-scored tournament). UCLA's freshman Kyle McPhillips, the #8-seed, mowed through the field to make it to the singles' tournament final, where she faced #3-seeded Krista Hardebeck from Stanford. Despite being the low seed, McPhillips took Hardebeck behind the proverbial woodshed, blasting the Stanford star in dominating fashion, 6-1 and 6-0 to take the Pac-12 women's singles crown. On the doubles' side, UCLA's duo of Courtney Dolehide and Pamela Montez finished in second, losing to top-seeded doubles pair Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria from Southern Cal, 6-3 and 6-3. With the Pac-12 tourney behind them, the ladies will next be in action for NCAA regionals action beginning on May 11.
- Finally, turning to the men's Pac-12 conference tennis tournament in Ojai (which follows the team format), the top-seeded Bruins wasted no time in making a mark, smashing Stanford 4-0 in the conference semi-final. The Bruins got to business out of the gate, picking up the doubles point with ease (8-3, 8-1), followed by three successive singles' victories by Marcos Giron (6-2, 6-4), Clay Thompson (6-2, 6-0), and Karue Sell (6-1, 6-0). With Stanford put down, the top-ranked men took took on cross-town rival Southern Cal in the conference final, pulling out a tight 4-2 victory to bring a Pac-12 tourney title home to Westwood. Southern Cal came out strong, winning the doubles point (6-8, 6-8) and picking up the first singles' point of the match with Marcos Giron falling to Yannick Hanfmann, 4-6, 1-6. But the Bruins stormed back, picking up four straight singles' victories by Karue Sell (6-3, 6-1), Adrien Puget (6-1, 6-2), Dennis Mkrtchian (7-6, 6-4), and Clay Thompson (7-6, 6-4). With the wins, the men now stand at 24-1 on the year and will head into the NCAA regionals on May 10 at home at the L.A. Tennis Center.
So, all-in-all, a mixed bag with Coach Speraw's first season coming to an earlier-than-hoped conclusion, and women's water polo hoping for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. But on the court, both tennis teams look strong and the men's tennis team look to be the odds-on favorite for UCLA's first NCAA title since Rachael Kidder led the women's volleyball team to the title in 2011 and the first men's NCAA title since Kevin Chappell led the men's golf team to the title in 2008. Let's keep our fingers crossed.