UCLA Women's Volleyball
NCAA Tournament Round 1
Opponent: Lipscomb (23-8, 13-1)
When: 8:00 PM PST, Friday, December 4, 2015
Where: John Wooden Center, Los Angeles, CA
Video: UCLA Live Stream
Live Stats: GameTracker
UCLA (23-7) meets Lipscomb (23-8) tonight in a first round NCAA Tournament match at the John Wooden Center. The Bruins were awarded an at-large bid and the 14th-seed after finishing fourth in the Pac-12 and 12th in the final regular season AVCA Coaches Poll. Lipscomb finished first in the Atlantic Sun Conference and earned an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament after winning the conference tourney.
I have to admit that I've never seen Lipscomb play. The Bruins have never faced the Bisons, and Lipscomb doesn't regularly regularly schedule top-25 opponents. In fact, the only ranked team Lipscomb faced this season was Utah--Utah was ranked #23 in the preseason AVCA Coaches Poll--but the Utes were out of the top-25 a week later after losing to ... Lipscomb.
Utah is the only common opponent for the Bruins and the Bisons. Lipscomb defeated the Utes 3-1 in the Utah Classic Tournament in late August. The Bruins have defeated the Utes twice by identical 3-1 margins.
For what it's worth, the Bisons enter tonight's match with a ten-game winning streak. However, all but one of those wins came against Atlantic Sun Conference opponents, none of which are NCAA Tournament teams.
Although the Bruins aren't a tall team, they have a significant size advantage over the Bisons. Generally speaking, the Bruins' attackers are at least a couple of inches taller than their Lipscomb counterparts. In volleyball, size matters. Size doesn't trump skill, but it is an undeniable advantage. And given the fact that the Bisons run a lot of their offense through the middle where UCLA has 6'6" Claire Felix and 6'5" Jennie Frager, Lipscomb faces a "big" challenge.
Lipscomb features a relatively balanced attack, but it is especially effective when it attacks through its middle blockers: 6'0" redshirt senior Jewell Dobson and 6'1" redshirt senior Molly Spitznagle. Dobson and Spitznagle each have a hitting percentage of .340+, and average 3.14 and 2.10 kills/set, respectively. On the outside, the Bisons are led by 5'10" senior opposite Brittnay Estes (3.19 kills/set) and 5'10" freshman OH Carlyle Nusbaum (3.68 kills/set). Freshman Lauren Anderson (5'10") is the other outside hitter; she averages 1.82 kills/set and leads the Bisons in service aces with 27.
Junior setter Kayla Ostrom directs the Lipscomb attack. She led the Atlantic Sun Conference in assists per set by a sizeable margin. averaging over a dozen assists per set.
The good news for the Bruins is that Lipscomb is not a strong defensive team. The Bisons finished sixth in the Atlantic Sun Conference in both blocks/set and digs/set. However, in order to run so much of its offense through its middle attackers, Lipscomb must be a reasonably good passing team, so UCLA will have to make a good effort to apply pressure with its serve.
For the Bruins, there's no news on setter Ryann Chandler as she recovers from an injury suffered midway through the conference season. However, even if she were available, I doubt that Coach Sealy would start her. Even though UCLA has split its last six matches, the Bruins closed out the season with strong efforts against then #1 USC and #6 Stanford. In both instances, the matches went to five sets, with the Bruins pulling off the upset against the Trojans but falling just short against the Trees.
Middle blocker Claire Felix is playing outstanding volleyball as the Bruins head into NCAA Tournament play. She had 10 kills and hit .667 in the Bruins' upset of Southern Cal, and she followed that up with 16 kills against Stanford. OH Jordan Anderson continues to deliver as UCLA's go-to attacker; she had nearly 100 attacks combined in UCLA's last two matches.
The key to tonight's game, though, is undoubtedly freshman setter Zana Muno. When she makes good decisions, UCLA's attack is good enough to beat most teams. But the strength of Coach Sealy's squad is in its ability to defend. Libero Taylor Formico has been fantastic throughout the year, and senior defensive specialists Rachel Inouye and Karly Drolson haven't received the credit they deserve for doing all of the little things that win matches.
With the winner of tonight's match scheduled to play a Round 2 game tomorrow, the Bruins can't afford to let Lipscomb take them to five sets. And if UCLA can't eliminate the Bisons handily, then they won't be going far in the tournament anyway. My prediction: UCLA 3, Lipscomb 0--the Bruins match up well with Lipscomb, enjoy home court advantage, and finished the season with two strong performances, all of which adds up to a sweep.
Your UCLA W. Volleyball team hosts the 1st round of the NCAA Tourney tonight at 8pm. First 30 students get in free! pic.twitter.com/WGsFJuWV0m— The Den (@uclatheden) December 4, 2015