In their first tournament of the season, the Bruins spoiled the Yellow Jackets’ farewell.
No. 18 UCLA women’s volleyball (4-0) bested all three of its opponents in three days at the Long Beach State Tournament over the weekend – including a 3-1 upset of No. 16 Georgia Tech (4-1) on the final day of play Saturday afternoon.
The Bruins got their offense churning early against the Yellow Jackets, swinging in 15 kills off a .519 hitting percentage in the opening set. In contrast, Georgia Tech coughed up seven attacking errors and hit nearly .500 percentage points less at .059.
Outside hitters/opposites freshman Charitie Luper and graduate student Mac May paced the blue and gold with an errorless five and four kills, respectively, en route to a 25-11 first-frame win.
“I look up to Mac a lot,” Luper said. “She is an amazing player, and I just want to be like her one day. … Us two working together, I think it’s a good combination. It’s going to be hard to stop.”
Luper, playing in just her second collegiate match after missing UCLA’s season-opening win against UC Davis with an illness, finished the day with a team-high 17 kills – one kill greater than May.
The Yellow Jackets rebounded from dropping the first two sets to capture an extra-point, 27-25 third-set victory, but it was too little, too late, as they dropped the final set 25-11 to pick up their only loss of the tournament.
Senior outside/opposite hitter élan McCall, who was second on the team in kills per set last season, played a more defensive backcourt role against Georgia Tech, as she had only two attacking opportunities but finished with 13 digs.
“This match ended up just being kind of a scramble match,” said coach Michael Sealy. “I know we didn’t use (McCall) a ton offensively, but it was more just having another ball control player get out there to handle some of the random rallies.”
UCLA opened the tournament with sweeps over Long Beach State (3-3) on Thursday and Portland State (1-4) on Friday.
While Thursday’s sweep marked graduate transfer setter Shelby Martin’s second straight start for UCLA since transferring from Kansas State, Friday saw sophomore setter Audrey Pak make the lineup for the first time all season.
Sealy said the weekend was intended to test out multiple tentative lineups, including a 5-1 formation from Martin or Pak on their own as well as both together in a 6-2 offense.
“We’re not going to have a starting lineup until preseason is done,” Sealy said. “For the first four weeks, we’re just going to keep playing a little bit. It’ll work itself out.”
While there has been a learning curve with a new setter and offense, redshirt sophomore middle blocker Anna Dodson said the team has been growing as a result of it.
“Running the 5-1 with Shelby is a great thing,” Dodson said. “Personally I had some disconnection with her but we figured that out. … The hitters really stepped up and were really smart with their shots.”
A beneficiary of the new offense, Dodson has found herself with the most attacking opportunities of her collegiate career to date and has already exceeded her redshirt freshman season kill total.
Despite her increased presence on the court, however, Dodson said her sights are set on helping the team make a deep run in the postseason.
“I’m really just focusing right now on the team dynamic and getting us as far as we can,” Dodson said. “I really do believe we will make an impact at NCAAs this year, and so that’s our entire focus and my entire focus right now.”