UCLA Women's Volleyball
Opponent: #1 Southern Cal (29-1, 17-1)
When: 8:00 PM PST, Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Where: Galen Center, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: USC GameTracker
Let's start with the good news. #13 UCLA (22-6, 13-5) closes out the regular season this week against two top-10 teams: #1 USC and #6 Stanford. As a student-athlete, these are the games you want to play in--you want to test yourself against the best. The fact that they are both rivalry games adds to the fun of these matches.
Although the Bruins have no chance of catching first-place Southern Cal (29-1, 17-1) or second-place Washington (26-2, 16-2) at the top of the Pac-12 standings, UCLA can still catch Stanford (20-6, 14-4) for third, but it will probably require beating the Trojans today and the Cardinal on Friday. It's doable, but only if the Bruins show that they can compete with the best.
There isn't bad news per se, but there certainly is discouraging news. The Bruins have limped through the last two weeks with a loss to Oregon, a harder-than-expected bounce-back win against last place Oregon State, a narrow comeback win against a middle-of-the-Pac Arizona State team playing without its best player, and a tough loss to the Wildcats--another middle-of-the-Pac team. That's a .500 record against four teams with losing records in the conference. That's not a good sign heading into a match against the top-ranked team in the nation.
There are plenty of explanations for the Bruins recent mediocrity. Injuries have certainly played a part. With first-choice setter Ryann Chandler out for for the past four weeks, freshman Zana Muno has been running UCLA's offense, and as you might expect from a freshman who isn't a true setter, her decision-making needs work. Reily Buechler has missed time too, and that caused Coach Sealy to change from three-person to two-person serve reception. Jessyka Ngauamo did a good job off the bench when Buechler was unavailable, but having so many moving parts at this point in the season is bound to lead to inconsistent performances. And on top of all of that, Coach Sealy has been giving freshman Kyra Rogers increasing playing time as she makes the transition from middle blocker to outside hitter.
These aren't excuses. Elite teams overcome injuries; elite teams adapt to lineup and tactical changes without struggling in four straight gams against average conference teams.
I hate to say this, but the Trojans are a very good team this year. In the first meeting between UCLA and USC this season. the Trojans held the Bruins to a microscopic .056 hitting percentage as they swept the match, 25-22, 25-12, 25-19. That was back in September, though. Tonight will undoubtedly be different, though not necessarily better. USC hasn't lost in November; UCLA is 4-3 this month.
For anyone who appreciates technical volleyball, the player to watch tonight is USC senior Samantha Bricio. Bricio is a two-time All-American, and in my opinion, is one of the top-3 players in the nation this year. She's averaging over 5 kills/set while nearly averaging a .300 hitting percentage. She's also a terrific defender and passer.
If the Bruins are going to pull off a big upset tonight, they'll need to use their middle attack effectively, and that will require better passing than we saw in the season's first UCLA-USC match. I'm not confident that the Bruins can take at least one set from the Trojans, but if they can't, it will show how far away the Bruins are from being able to join the elite teams on the west coast.
Go BRUINS! Beat $C!