The UCLA women’s volleyball team opens its season this afternoon with a match against the Baylor Bears at 2:30 pm PT at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. The match is part of the Husker Invitational and will see the Bruins face the #2 Nebraska Cornhuskers tomorrow evening.
Since this is the first match of the season, let’s preview this year’s UCLA Bruins team.
Obviously, the Bruins have lost the two seniors from last year’s squad, Kyra Rogers and Zana Muno, but they aren’t the only players who left the UCLA after last season. Madeleine Gates graduated from UCLA after three seasons and will play this season as a graduate transfer for Stanford. Meanwhile, Kylie Miller has also chosen to transfer and will play this season for Minnesota.
Miller is quoted on GopherSports.com as saying, “I chose Minnesota because it is an incredible opportunity to be developed by the accomplished coaching staff, contribute to a phenomenal team, play in front of amazing fans and compete at the highest level for a national championship.” Wow. How far has UCLA’s program fallen that a player chooses to transfer to Minnesota to compete for a national championship?
Defensive specialist Anne Crouch also is no longer with the team.
Senior setter Cali Thompson joins the Bruins after playing three seasons for Portland. Sophomore defensive specialist/libero Kelli Barry played in 29 games last season at the University of San Diego. That experience will likely have a big impact this year because UCLA is such a young team.
In addition to Thompson and Barry, the Bruins have just two freshmen joining the team this season. Middle blocker Anna Dodson graduated from Rocky Mountain High (there’s got to be a joke in there somewhere) in Fort Collins, Colorado and defensive specialist/libero Mari Hinkle comes to UCLA from Rosemount, Minnesota.
Additionally, Michael Sealy has added two new assistant coaches for 2019. Brad Keller joins the women’s program after spending six seasons as an assistant to men’s volleyball coach John Speraw. Megan Pendergast joins the team an an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. She spent last season as a coach at Oklahoma.
The Bruins return a trio of upperclassmen in Savvy Simo, Mac May and Jenny Mosser to a very young team. In fact, this trio of outside hitters are joined by newcomer Thompson as the only four upperclassmen on the team.
Hopefully, they are able to provide enough leadership to guide the more inexperienced Bruins.
With such a young and inexperienced team, it could be a tough road ahead this season for the Bruins. The question as to how good this team will be comes down to how quickly Michael Sealy can coach the team up by the time conference play begins in late September.
The non-conference schedule this season seems to have been built for a team which is rebuilding. Aside from #2 Nebraska, it doesn’t look like the non-conference portion of the schedule is quite as daunting as years past. In fact, it looks like UCLA has designed the non-conference schedule to specifically be easier. Is this a result of knowing that the team will need to find its way early?
I hope not because playing an easier schedule just creates a perception that the team isn’t as good as it could be and it sort of smells of a coach who is trying to save his job and Sealy could finally be facing some pressure to deliver better results. Whether he has the talent to do so remains to be seen.