UCLA women’s volleyball couldn’t get past its Sweet 16 opponent in 2014. The same story occurred in 2015.
But, with a victory Friday, the Bruins could qualify for the Elite Eight for the second-straight season.
UCLA (21-10) cruised through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and will travel to Gainesville, Florida to take on second-seeded Florida (27-1). The Gators’ lone loss this season came against a formidable Kentucky team, but that was back in October.
The Bruins faced a tougher schedule, considering the Pac-12 is a conference of powerhouses in the sport. Nine of their 10 losses this season came against ranked teams.
Both teams fared well in the first two rounds, each vanquishing their opponents 3-0 and 3-1, respectively. But Florida will likely be favored in the match, due to their shiny record.
Several aspects in the Gators’ game stand out.
They’re one of the best defensive teams in the nation, at least at the net. They rank sixth in the nation in blocks per set with a smidgen over 3.00. And they boast the nation’s top blocker in senior Rhamat Alhassan.
Florida doesn’t possess a top hitter, as some of UCLA’s regular season opponents did. But it still has a crew of killers in the lineup, including Alhassan and sophomore middle blocker Rachael Kramer – both have hit percentages of .399 or better.
Redshirt senior pin hitter Shianah Joseph and senior pin hitter Carli Snyder round out the attack force. Snyder is the Gators’ first option on most hits, as she accumulated the most kills per set for the club at 3.46. Joseph is the team’s fourth option, yet she still hit .368 on the year with more than 2.50 kills per set.
But, of course, UCLA counters with a few hard hitters.
Freshmen outside hitters Mac May and Jenny Mosser average more than 2.50 kills per set, while the team leader, senior Reily Buechler, garners more than 3.50 kills per set, despite an uninspiring .207 hitting percentage.
Even if the Bruins don’t earn an Elite Eight berth, they will still boast a strong returning roster next year. Just two of this year’s players are seniors.
But UCLA hopes it won’t have to worry about next year until it brings home NC #115.
This is your UCLA Women’s Volleyball vs. Florida Gators NCAA tournament game thread.