Opponent: Washington State (12-3, 1-2)
When: 11:00 AM PT, Sunday, October 4, 2015
Where: John Wooden Center, Los Angeles, CA
Video: UCLA Live Stream
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
On Firday, the 11th-ranked Bruins (10-3, 1-2) played a top-10 team for the second time this season. Unfortunately, the result was the same as the first time: a 3-0 loss.
The good news is that UCLA was competitive with #5 Washington in the first set. The bad news is that volleyball matches consist of more than one set. And once again, after losing the first set 31-29, the Bruins collapsed, losing the second and third sets by wide margins (25-16, 25-15).
As I wrote in my UCLA-Washington match preview, if the Bruins are going to be a top-tier team in the Pac-12, they have to be able to compete with the elite teams in the conference: Southern Cal, Washington, Stanford and Arizona State. If UCLA can't win a few matches against those teams this season, then the Bruins are destined to be a second-tier, middle-of-the-pack, mediocre Pac-12 team. Based on their performances against USC last week and Washington this week, it's hard to see the Bruins moving into the top tier this season.
Depending on your expectations for UCLA Women's Volleyball, being a second-tier Pac-12 program may be acceptable. I doubt that Dan Guerrero loses any sleep over UCLA's failure to compete for a Pac-12 title in recent years. But there's a deeper concern attached to UCLA's status as a "middle of the Pac" team: the gap between UCLA and the bottom of the Pac-12 is a lot smaller than the gap between the Bruins and the top of the Pac-12.
That brings us to Washington State (12-3, 1-2), a below-average Pac-12 volleyball program. The Cougars have built a nice record based on playing some fairly low level competition. On the other hand, WSU is currently tied with UCLA in the Pac-12 standings, with losses against the same teams that beat the Bruins (Southern Cal & Washington). That doesn't mean that WSU can be expected to beat UCLA today, but the Cougars were a lot more competitive in their 3-2 loss to the Huskies than the Bruins were on Friday.
Another concern is UCLA's habit of starting sluggishly and playing down to the level of the competition. The Bruins are better than the Cougars, but they are not so much better that they can afford to let WSU get a foothold in the match.
Washington State relies heavily on two attackers: Kyra Holt (4.22 kills/set) and McKenna Woodford (3.06 kills/set). However, if the Bruins can slow down those two attackers, and can pass well enough to open up the middle attack, UCLA should be able to even its conference record.
Although I still have concerns about Coach Sealy's overly busy game management, I'll refrain from repeating those concerns again here. However, if he is going to continue to play musical chairs with his setters, then it's fair to judge him on the results. So far, not so good.
For what it's worth, my gut tells me that this is an important game for the Bruins to win. If UCLA loses to Washington State today, I fear that the Bruins may be headed toward another finish in the bottom half of the conference.
Opponent: #21 Washington State (8-2-0, 1-1-0)
When: 11:00 AM PT, Sunday, October 4, 2015
Where: Lower Soccer Field, Pullman, WA
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: Washington State Live Stats
Although the Bruins played well against Washington on Thursday, they were edged at the end of the game when the Huskies scored the go-ahead goal in the 85th minute. The 2-1 loss gave UCLA (5-5-0, 1-1-0) its first conference loss of the season, and more notably, its first Pac-12 loss since 2012. That demonstrates how dominant UCLA Women's Soccer was in Coach Cromwell's first two seasons. This season, however, is a different story.
It doesn't get any easier for the Bruins this morning. Washington State (8-2-0, 1-1-0) holds down the 21st spot in the most recent NSCAA Coaches Poll. That said, the Cougars played a soft non-conference schedule, and lost to the Trojans earlier this week. The Bruins have already played and beaten better teams this year.
What the first 10 games of the season have proven is that UCLA no longer has a shutdown defense. With the loss of all four defensive starters from last season plus the loss of goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland, it was reasonable to expect some inconsistency from UCLA at the back. The loss of Gabbi Miranda hasn't helped, and of course, Coach Cromwell's decision to promote Arielle Schechtman to starting goalkeeper has added a new component to the Bruins' defense.
The surprise, though, is that the offense has been noticeably less potent this season. Last year, the Bruins had Sam Mewis to drive the team forward from midfield and to create chances for her teammates and herself. This season, the Bruins have lacked that creative, attacking force in midfield, and as a result, the Bruins are averaging just slightly more than a goal per game.
It was a great benefit to get forwards Taylor Smith and Darian Jenkins back on the pitch this week. Jenkins, in particular, had looked increasingly sharp before her injury. Hopefully those two veteran forwards can produce some a few moments of individual magic to take a bit of pressure off of the Bruins' inexperienced defenders.
Simply put, this is pretty close to a must-win game for UCLA if the Bruins are going to contend for the Pac-12 title. The Bruins have been playing better, more consistent soccer in the past few weeks, so a victory in today's game is well within reach.
Opponent: #15 Washington (5-1-3, 1-0-0)
When: 7:00 PM PT, Sunday, October 4, 2015
Where: Husky Soccer Stadium, Seattle, WA
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: University of Washington StatBroadcast
Let me start by praising Coach Salcedo for having the courage to recognize his team's defensive shortcomings and change the team's formation accordingly. On Friday, the Bruins employed a 3-5-2 formation, and for the most part, it was a success in stopping the bleeding at the back. The Bruins did concede a goal in overtime, and the goal was the result of poor defensive positioning, but it represented a massive improvement over the dreadful defensive performances in previous games.
Now, having praised Coach Salcedo, I also have to criticize his player selection within the new system. Nathan Smith did a fine job as one of the Bruins' three central defenders, but in my opinion, Edgar Contreras is a little too slow to be the anchor of central defense. I thought Javan Torre did a good job as a central defensive substitute for the injured Michael Amick, but his performance wasn't without a couple of notable mistakes.
The choice of Erik Holt in midfield was a puzzler. Holt performed well in his role as a holding midfielder in previous games, but a 3-5-2 formations requires more dynamism from the three central midfielders. It would have made much more sense to play Jordan Vale in that role, and drop Jackson Yueill back into a less advanced position.
Of course it didn't help Coach Salcedo that Abu Danladi wasn't available and that Seyi Adekoya wasn't fully fit. Forward Larry Ndjock worked tirelessly in front of goal, but without a true partner up front, Ndjock often looked isolated when he had the ball. Nevertheless, UCLA dominated possession for most of the game, and had the better chances during regulation.
Another surprise from Coach Salcedo was his decision to start a new goalkeeper. Redshirt freshman Pepe Barroso Silva, a product of the Atlético de Madrid club system, started between the post for the Bruins, and played well. It remains to be seen, though, if he retains his starting role today.
It will be difficult for the Bruins to even their conference record tonight in Seattle. Washington is a Pac-12 power--the Huskies are the 15th-ranked team nationally, and they are a legitimate Pac-12 title contender. If Adekoya or Danladi are available tonight, the Bruins will have a cutting edge up front that could give them their first conference win. Without either of those two strikers, it will be a much harder task for the Bruins to return home from their northwest road trip with a win.