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Bruin Bites - UCLA Olympic Sports Roundup - Volleyball Triumphs at the Thunderdome

UCLA Women's Volleyball won the Tournament at the Thunderdome championship over the weekend, and UCLA Men's Water Polo maintained its perfect record in 2015 with three dominant victories. Unfortunately, UCLA Men's and Women's Soccer didn't fare so well.


Women's Volleyball

Another weekend, another tournament trophy for the Bruins. #17 UCLA went undefeated at the Tournament at the Thunderdome, dropping just one set along the way. And for the second weekend in a row, Jordan Anderson won tournament MVP honors. Two other Bruins were named to the All-Tournament Team: middle blocker Claire Felix and libero Taylor Formico.

UCLA may have played its best match of the tournament on Friday against #18 San Diego. The Bruins dumped the Toreros 3-1 (25-13, 24-26, 25-21, 25-23) behind good hitting and better defense: UCLA held USD to a .129 attack percentage for the match. Four Bruins reached double-digits in kills, including Anderson's match-leading 20 kills. Haley Lawless continued her emergence as an offensive force with 12 kills and a .417 hitting percentage.

Rachel inouye and Taylor Formico collected 13 and 10 digs, respectively, and Reily Buechler registered a "13 Special" double-double with 13 kills and 13 blocks. Claire Felix added 10 kills and setter Zana Muno dished out 47 assists.

On Saturday UCLA swept SMU 3-0 (25-20, 25-22, 25-16). In spite of the sweep, UCLA fell into a pattern of falling behind and then playing catch-up. And for reasons that remain unexplained, Coach Sealy started Ryann Chandler at setter. There may be a perfectly good explanation for the move, but considering the fact that Chandler lost the starting setter job to Muno after the second game of the season, and that the Bruins haven't lost with Muno setting, it seems like an odd move to make.

As I wrote in my Sunday match preview, a volleyball setter is the equivalent of a football quarterback, so most coaches put a huge emphasis on stability at the setter position. Since the Bruins entered the match with a four game winning streak, Coach Sealy's apparent "tinkering" with his starting lineup was not a welcome surprise.

Jordan Anderson's 14 kills paced UCLA's attack. Reilly Buechler was the only other Bruin to reach double-digits in kills (13), and she missed her second straight double-double by just one dig.

Haley Lawless and Claire Felix added 9 and 8 kills, respectively, and Felix led UCLA with a .400 hitting percentage.

Taylor Formico collected an amazing 23 digs and Rachel Inouye chipped in with 10. Ryann Anderson played reasonably well in her spot start; she totalled 40 assists and 12 digs.

In the tournament finale, the Bruins swept UC Santa Barbara  3-0 (25-19, 27-25, 25-23), but made hard work of the victory. The Bruins repeatedly needed to play catch-up against a weak UCSB side, and relied on the generosity of the hosts--three straight hitting errors by UCSB--to close out the second set. Continually playing catch-up usually indicates that a team is playing down to the level of the competition, and since that's a bad habit that the Bruins were guilty of last season, Coach Sealy should make a point of addressing the problem asap.

Jordan Anderson was the lone Bruin to tally double-digits in kills; she pounded 14 kills while hitting .387. Although freshman Kyra Rogers saw limited playing time against UCSB, her 5 kills and .714 attack percentage gave the Bruins a real spark in the final set.

Formico and Inouye were again the backbone of the defense; each recorded 13 digs. Zana Muno was back with another double-double too: 34 assists and 10 digs.

Aside from my concern that the Bruins didn't show the consistent level of concentration that I would expect from a top-20 team, it was a very successful weekend for UCLA, and continues an impressive run as the onset of Pac-12 play looms. If the Bruins (7-1) can extend their winning streak to 8 with wins this week over their last two non-conference opponents (UC Irvine and Long Beach State), will be in good shape to challenge for a top-10 spot in the national polls and a top-four spot in the Pac-12.

Lastly, it's good to see Zana Muno finally get some recognition for her outstanding play since she's been inserted into the starting lineup. Today she was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. Congratulations Zana!


Men's Water Polo

There was a time long ago when UCLA was a basketball school. After Coach retired and the basketball program began to decay, UCLA was a volleyball school thanks to Coach Scates and his 14 National Championships between 1975 and 2000. Unfortunately, UCLA's success in volleyball has waned this century. So what sport represents UCLA's athletic excellence in the Dan Guerrero era?

Given the struggles of our soccer teams this season, the answer has to be water polo. That's right--UCLA has become a water polo school!

Don't get me wrong--being associated with a tradition of excellence in water polo is fantastic. But unlike men's basketball, women's volleyball, or men's and women's soccer, water polo remains a minor sport. And I have to say, UCLA is incredibly good at water polo.

The #1 Bruins entered the weekend with a 2-0 record and added three more wins to improve to 5-0. UCLA picked up the first of their victories with a dominant performance against #9 UCSD in the UCLA Invitational Tournament, winning 18-6.

Gordon Marshall led all scorers with five goals, but UCLA relied on its deep bench for much of the match, resulting in 11 different players getting on the scoresheet. The Bruins also used three different goalkeepers in an effort to give game experience to as many players as possible.

On Sunday, the Bruins traveled to Redlands to take part in the Inland Empire Classic. UCLA opened play against the hosts and won handily, 18-3, without using any starters. Max Irving led UCLA with 4 goals, and once again, 11 Bruins added their names to the scoresheet. Sophomore Aleksandar Ruzic led UCLA's goalkeepers with seven saves, but freshman Alex Wolf shut out the Bulldogs in his quarter of play as did sophomore Elliot Ordway in the final frame.

The Bruins closed out the weekend by knocking off #18 Whittier 16-4, and as before, kept the starters on the bench. Freshman Spencer Farrar led UCLA with 4 goals and Joey Fuentes added a hat trick. Freshman Alex Wolf was in goal for the first half, recording four saves, and Ruzic and Ordway each played a quarter between the posts.

The Bruins travel to Palo Alto at the end of the week for the NorCal Invitational. UCLA is likely to get its first serious test of the season in the tourney, but the Bruins look primed to continue last year's success.


Men's Soccer

UCLA Men's Soccer started the season as the top-ranked team in the nation. After yesterday's 2-1 overtime loss to UC Riverside, the Bruins record is 1-3-0, and the likelihood that UCLA will be a national title contender is diminishing with each disappointing performance.

The Bruins have now lost three straight, and in each case, the fragility of UCLA's defense has been exposed. Of course, as most of you know, that was an issue that plagued the Bruins through much of the 2014 season. The fact that Coach Salcedo still hasn't successfully corrected the problem is troubling. Among other things, it reinforces the argument that Coach Salcedo is a terrific recruiter but not a particularly good coach.

Yesterday's loss to UCR looked all too familiar--in many respects, it was a minor variation on the Bruins' loss to Maryland last week.  Against Riverside, the Bruins took the lead at the half hour mark courtesy of a beautifully squared ball across the face of goal that Jose Hernandez stabbed into the back of the net.

Unfortunately, putting the Bruins' defense in charge of protecting a lead is like putting a narcoleptic on night watch. Riverside scored the equalizer about halfway through the second half, and then just five minutes into overtime, freshman Dakota Havlick who was making his first start as a Bruin, fumbled a deflected clearance into his own goal.

I'm not inclined to blame Havlick for the loss. Once again, the UCLA attack failed to score more than one goal, and once again, the UCLA defense conceded a soft goal to send the game to overtime. Here's what Coach Salcedo said about the Bruins performance:

"It was a tough loss again tonight. We've had three consecutive games where we've given up soft goals and that's something we need to sort out. We need to understand that giving up bad goals is a recipe for losses. That's something we need to get better with, continue to work on and resolve as soon as possible."

He's right, of course, but simply acknowledging a long-standing problem hardly inspires confidence. If it's fixable--and it should be--why hasn't it been fixed yet?

The Bruins get a chance to at least create the appearance of improvement this week when they host two unranked opponents: Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara. A couple of wins won't be a cure for what ails the Bruins, but the games will give Coach Salcedo two more opportunities to make necessary adjustments before the start of the Pac-12 season.


Women's Soccer

If you want to know what's wrong with the Bruins in 2015, consider this: in the last four games, UCLA has surrendered an average of 2 goals per game, and for the season, UCLA is conceding 1.43 goals per game. By way of comparison, last year's team allowed just 0.25 goals per game.

Needless to say, it's hard to win when you are leaking a couple of goals a game, and especially so when you play top-5 teams. Of course it doesn't help that the Bruins are scoring at about 40% of their 2014 rate, but that's nothing compared to the fact that UCLA is allowing goals at rate that is 5.7 times higher than last year.

The week actually started fairly well for UCLA. The Bruins were in Winston-Salem for the first stop on their North Carolina road trip, and although they fell behind to Wake Forest, they roared back to register a 2-1 win. The equalizer came via a penalty kick by Taylor Smith, and in the 80th minute, Lauren Kaskie booted the game winner.

Although the Bruins hung on for a 2-1 victory, there were some troubling signs. UCLA's central defense looked shaky without Gabbi Miranda on the pitch, particularly on Wake Forest's breakaway goal. Also, UCLA struggled to put shots on goal; the Wake Forest goalkeepers recorded a single save on UCLA's 11 shots. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and it was a much-needed win for the Bruins, snapping a two-game losing streak.

Against #4 North Carolina on Sunday, the Bruins were punished for their lack of defensive organization. But the problem at the heart of the UCLA defense was more than just poor organization and poor communication. UCLA's central defenders lack pace, so it's critically important that they are tactically sound, taking good positions and the right angles as they pursue attackers with the ball.

However, against North Carolina, I repeatedly saw the Bruins' central defenders slow to react and flat-footed as breakaways unfolded. I saw central defenders take bad angles to the ball, leaving the goalkeeper and their central defender partner exposed. I saw central defenders turn their backs on and retreat from attackers running at them with the ball. I saw defenders fail to close down attackers with the ball when they were near the box. I'd like to be able to say that it was just a bad day for the defense, but the mistakes revealed naïve defending, not physical errors.

The Bruins played well for about five minutes of the match. During that stretch, Kodi Lavrusky scored her first goal of the season, which brought the Bruins to within a goal at 2-1. But just three minutes later, UCLA's central defenders looked slow and confused as Tar Heel Jessie Scarpa raced through the Bruins' defense to restore UNC's two-goal margin.

When Taylor Smith was ejected a couple of minutes later for a flailing arm, any chance of a UCLA comeback was destroyed. The red card means that Smith will not be available on Thursday when UCLA closes out the non-conference portion of its schedule against #14 Pepperdine.


Speaking of cards, the Bruins were issued a "team" yellow card on Sunday for dissent from the sidelines. While I understand Coach Cromwell's frustration with what appear to be some pretty dreadful no-calls by the refs--apparently obstruction is not recognized as a foul in collegiate women's soccer--this UCLA team can't afford to lose its coach to suspension. Cromwell has already missed one game (a loss to Texas) due to suspension this season, and there's really no excuse for it to happen again.

I have to admit that I'm no longer confident that Coach Cromwell will be able to take this team to the NCAA tournament in 2015. Cromwell is a terrific coach, but there's not much margin for error anymore.


This Week In UCLA Sports

Thursday, September 17

  • UCLA Women's Soccer vs. Pepperdine at Drake Stadium (7:00 PM PT)

Friday, September 18

  • UCLA Women's Volleyball vs. UC Irvine in Irvine, CA (10:00 AM PT)
  • UCLA Men's Soccer vs. Cal Poly at Drake Stadium (7:00 PM PT)
  • UCLA Women's Volleyball vs. Long Beach State in Long Beach, CA (7:30 PM PT)

Saturday, September 19

  • UCLA Men's Water Polo vs. Chapman in Palo Alto, CA (8:00 AM PT)
  • UCLA Men's Water Polo vs. UC Davis or Pepperdine in Palo Alto, CA (3:25 PM PT)
  • UCLA Football vs. BYU in Pasadena, CA (7:30 PM PT)

Sunday, September 20

  • UCLA Men's Water Polo at the NorCal Tournament in Palo Alto, CA (TBA)

Monday, September 21

  • UCLA Men's Soccer vs. UC Santa Barbara at Drake Stadium (7:00 PM PT)

That's the UCLA Olympic sports roundup for the week.