UCLA Women's Soccer
Opponent: #4 North Carolina (6-0-1)
When: 10:00 AM PDT, Sunday, September 13, 2015
Where: Fetzer Field, Chapel Hill, NC
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
For the second week in a row, the Bruins face a top-5 team. As I wrote in Bruins Nation's UCLA Women's Soccer season preview, UCLA has an incredibly difficult schedule this season. The upside is that playing against elite opponents will prepare the Bruins for the challenges of the Pac-12. The downside is that it's hard for an inexperienced team to build confidence and momentum without periodic success.
It's still too early to tell if UCLA's brutal non-conference schedule is a good way to battle-test a team in rebuilding mode. Coach Cori Close did something similar last year with her young women's basketball team, and the results were not encouraging. However, unlike the UCLA women's basketball program, Coach Cromwell's program has a history of great success, so there's more reason to believe that this team will be hardened rather than burned by fire.
As the national coaches poll suggests, North Carolina is a very good team--a likely contender for the national title. Despite UCLA's struggles in the preseason, the Bruins have played relatively well against top teams, including a 2-1 win against #13 Wisconsin and a 2-1 loss against #1 Virginia. And for what it's worth, although the Bruins were outplayed for long stretches of their match against Wake Forest on Friday, they fought back from a deficit to claim a critically important 2-1 win.
I can't say that I expect UCLA to beat North Carolina today. As I've written before, for the inexperienced Bruins at this stage of the season, performances are more important than outcomes. However, performances and outcomes are not independent, and for a team hoping to head into the conference portion of their schedule with confidence and momentum, the outcomes have to improve soon.
UCLA Men's Water Polo
Tournament: Inland Empire Classic
Opponent 1: Redlands (2-4)
When: 10:20 AM PDT, Sunday, September 13, 2015
Opponent 2: #18 Whittier (3-2)
When: 12:00 PM PDT, Sunday, September 13, 2015
Where: Thompson Aquatic Center, Redlands, CA
Live Stats: None
Collegiate men's water polo has four powerhouse teams that dominate the sport: UCLA, Stanford, USC, and Cal. So even though the Bruins played a top-10 team yesterday in the UCLA Invitational, the final score was a reminder that there's still a large gap between the Big Four and the other teams. The Bruins improved to 3-0 with a 18-6 blowout of #9 UC San Diego yesterday, with Gordon Marshall netting a game-high five goals.
Today the Bruins are in Redlands for the Inland Empire Tournament. UCLA's scheduled tournament opponents are Redlands and #18 Whittier. Neither contest should be close, although the Bruins will undoubtedly take the opportunity to give pool time to their reserves, and particularly their freshmen.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with water polo, there's no satisfactory way to follow the matches without attending the tournament. The best option for those of us that live outside of Southern California seems to be twitter updates. Now that UCLA is a water polo school, I hope that the folks at Morgan Center will do more to expand the coverage of our flagship sport.
UCLA Women's Volleyball
Opponent: UC Santa Barbara (4-4)
When: 2:00 PM PDT, Sunday, September 13, 2015
Where: Thunderdome, Santa Barbara, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: UCSB Game Central
Live Stats: UCSB Stats
I'm at a loss to understand the direction of Coach Sealy's program. A solid season-opening victory was followed by an embarrassing straight-set loss to unranked LMU. The Bruins regrouped, and for the tournament in Honolulu, Coach Sealy made a change to his starting lineup that I'd advocated in my UCLA Women's Volleyball season preview--starting freshman setter Zana Muno.
Muno played fabulously in her debut, and in fact turned in strong performances in each of her first four starts--all of which were wins for UCLA. And then yesterday, against SMU, Coach Sealy inserted setter Ryann Chandler back into the lineup. The good news is that UCLA swept SMU 25-20, 25-22, 25-16. However, without any explanation for the substitution, my concerns about Coach Sealy's plans for 2015 have intensified.
There may be a very good explanation for the switch. Zana Muno may be out with a minor injury. Alternatively, she may have been benched for disciplinary reasons. But there aren't many other plausible and good reasons for making the change as far as I'm concerned.
Setters are to volleyball what quarterbacks are to football, and the relationship between attackers and setters is similar to the relationship between quarterbacks and receivers. While I'm a great advocate of finding playing time for subs, I don't believe in starting a backup because of the perceived weakness of an opponent, nor do I believe in setter or quarterback rotations. There isn't much historical evidence that supports the notion that setter (or quarterback) rotations will be successful, and Coach Sealy's own experiment with a setter rotation in the past was an utter failure.
I really want to see Coach Sealy succeed. Although I was very young at the time, I saw him play in 1993 on Coach Scates' national championship team. Coach Sealy is a Bruin legend. Also, as a volleyball player and as someone who grew up with UCLA Volleyball, it's tremendously important to me to see UCLA Women's Volleyball return to being an elite program. So when I see Coach Sealy apparently tinkering with a team that seems to be coming together and playing excellent volleyball, warning lights start flashing.
The Bruins can and should win the Tournament at the Thunderdome today against host UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos have lost both of their tournament ties, so #17 UCLA should bring home another tournament trophy this evening. I hope that the Bruins build comfortable early leads against UCSB and that Coach Sealy's bench players get an opportunity to take the court. But at the same time, I hope that Coach Sealy sees the wisdom of strengthening the core of the team, developing consistency, and preparing the Bruins for a difficult Pac-12 schedule.
UCLA Men's Soccer
Opponent: UC Riverside (2-3-0)
When: 5:00 PM PDT, Sunday, September 13, 2015
Where: Drake Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
I don't think that this evening's contest against UC Riverside will come close to curing the problems that plague the 2015 edition of Coach Salcedo's Bruins, but it can't hurt.
One of the glaring weaknesses of the Bruins that was exposed on the recent east coast road trip is the fragility of the defense. The same problem was evident last season, so Coach Salcedo needs to find a solution quickly if the eighth-ranked Bruins are going to be legitimate national title contenders in 2015.
Although the Bruins have no one but themselves to blame for the overtime loss to Maryland, it's certainly true that the referee did UCLA absolutely no favors. For example, if the Bruins hadn't sleepwalked through the opening 20 minutes of the match, the repeated failure of the ref to recognize or call handball might have been nothing more than a curiosity. On the other hand, UCLA got spanked by Georgetown, and once again, the intensity of UCLA's performance only rose when Georgetown took the lead. At some point, it would be refreshing to see UCLA attack from the opening kickoff, and to see an energy level that matches the talent level of our players.
Today's match is an opportunity for Coach Salcedo to hone UCLA's defensive work. It all starts with positioning, and in particular, I'd like to see improvement in the Bruins' ability to anticipate and thwart counterattacks. I'd also like to see more of freshman Malcolm Jones. As I've noted from the start of the season, Jones and fellow freshman Jackson Yueill are going to be stars. Although Coach Salcedo deserves some of the criticism that the Bruins Nation community has levelled at him, he absolutely deserves credit for starting two freshmen and allotting playing time based on talent rather than on seniority.
The Bruins need to get back on track today. A win against UC Riverside is an important first step in getting UCLA Men's Soccer heading in the right direction again.