The Bruins are up against their crosstown rivals in their first match of the season.
No. 19 UCLA women’s volleyball (7-1) will face USC (4-5) on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion, marking the start of the Pac-12’s interconference schedule, with each team playing 20 conference matches the remainder of the season.
The Bruins finished their nonconference play with a hitting percentage of .266 and a 7-1 record, with their lone loss being to No. 25 San Diego on Sept. 9 at Jenny Craig Pavilion. In comparison, the Trojans are hitting at .243 and hold a 4-5 record, having also lost to the Toreros on Sept. 17 at home.
Freshman outside/opposite hitter Charitie Luper – who has yet to play against USC in her collegiate career – said she has been waiting for this moment.
“This is what I dreamed of, and my dream is coming true,” Luper said. “I’m just going to go out there, have a bunch of confidence and play together with my team.”
The Trojan’s top hitter, outside hitter Brooke Botkin, is clocking in an average of 4.09 kills per set. On the other hand, graduate student outside/opposite hitter Mac May paces the Bruins with 4.31 kills per set, with Luper just behind with 3.05 kills per set.
But coach Michael Sealy said scouting USC is not as easy as understanding hitters’ tendencies.
“Their hitters have tendencies, but they’re good enough players to change their tendencies,” Sealy said. “We need to start by taking away what they want to do, and be able to adjust as they adjust.”
UCLA split its doubleheader matches against USC last season. In the second meeting, the Trojans won the final match – a five-setter with a 15-11 final-set score.
Over the summer, UCLA signed four new players, while former blue and gold Bruin middle blocker Sabrina Smith transferred to USC as a graduate student, utilizing her extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic.
“In a way, it’s going to be like a true rivalry game,” said redshirt senior middle blocker Emily Ryan. “You have someone who we love dearly across the net.”
The Bruin-Trojan rivalry will attract fans to the stands in Pauley Pavilion for the first time in almost two years. This season, UCLA has been on the road since its first match against UC Davis on Aug. 29th, a match that did not feature a large Bruin crowd in attendance compared to a game at home.
“We thrive off our crowd,” Luper said. “Even if away teams are heckling at us. We thrive off of that, so we love it.”
Sealy, on the other hand, said he views the crowd as a disadvantage.
“Now that campus is full, there’s more people, now there’s friends and there’s family, so the tendency is people try to do more,” Sealy said. “A rivalry game is for people outside the bubble. They can talk all they want about it, for us it’s volleyball.”
A rivalry game or not, the Bruins’ record and performance will impact UCLA’s chances of obtaining one of the 48 spots at the final NCAA tournament, where 32 spots are given to conference champions and 16 are bidded away.
“A game’s a game,” Ryan said. “Sealy always says it’s just shirts on the other side.”