UCLA women’s soccer ended its regular season in an impressive fashion, throttling crosstown rival USC in three sets.
As the holidays approach, the Bruins now prepare for the main event of the year – the NCAA tournament. Despite a down season compared to previous teams, UCLA (19-10) will still host the first two rounds in Westwood.
And the first matchup favors the Bruins, at least on paper, as it’s against Austin Peay (30-5). The Governors play in the Ohio Valley Conference, which does not boast the pedigree of the Pac-12, arguably the most competitive conference in the nation in the sport.
But Austin Peay still enjoyed a productive season, losing just 36 sets in 35 matches, which is a mighty accomplishment for any team, regardless of what teams they play.
However, as a result of the lackluster schedule, UCLA enters the matchup battle-tested, something that can count in the postseason. The Bruins played seven teams currently in the top-25 rankings.
This will be the Governors’ first matchup against a ranked team this season.
Nevetheless, Austin Peay possesses some firepower on offense. The team’s primary threat is senior right-side hitter Ashley Slay, who averages 3.69 kills per set. That is higher than UCLA’s most prominent hitter Riley Buechler’s average, which is 3.40.
Yet, the Governors only sport one more player with a higher kills-per-set average than 2.50. The Bruins have three players – freshmen pin hitters Mac May and Jenny Mosser and sophomore blocker Madeleine Gates – that have eclipsed that rate.
Both teams are nearly identical in overall hitting percentage, as Austin Peay has the edge by .001 percentage points. UCLA’s opponents have a higher hitting percentage, which isn’t much of a surprise given the competition they face.
All in all, this is an NCAA tournament game, so the Bruins cannot be unprepared – no team in the 64-team field is a slouch. UCLA hasn’t lost a set in an opening round matchup since 2010, and fans will have to go back to before 2000 to discover the last time it lost a match this early in the tourney.
The Bruins hope to keep it that way Friday night.
This is your UCLA women’s volleyball vs. Austin Peay game thread.