Beginning their journey through the tournament on their home court, the Bruins battled and came out triumphant.
No. 13 UCLA women’s volleyball (24-5, 16-4 Pac-12) swept Fairfield (24-19, 16-2 MAAC) in straight sets in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Pauley Pavilion on Friday. None of the three sets the Bruins and Stags played were dominant performances by the Bruins, however, but the hosts persevered and took the victory on Friday night.
Once again, graduate outside/opposite hitter Mac May carried the load with 21 kills, but eight Bruins got into the scoring column during the first round matchup.
Friday’s match started off in a sluggish fashion for UCLA, which went down 6-2 early after a handful of errors in their first taste of competition since its five-set loss to USC on Nov. 26.
Coach Michael Sealy called a timeout to reset, and the decision to pause the negative play proved dividends.
Down 19-16 later in the set, May recorded three straight kills to tie the score at 19. On the following play, redshirt sophomore middle blocker Anna Dodson scored a kill as well, to take the lead 20-19.
A kill from May gave the Bruins set point at 24-23, but the Stags fired back to tie the set at 24. After three separate set points, UCLA finally outlasted Fairfield s thanks to two attack errors, allowing the blue and gold to take the first set by a 29-27 final score.
Set two began with back-and-forth action as well. The Bruins were leading 9-6 after sophomore outside/opposite hitter Allison Jacobs putting them up by three with a kill, but the Stags went on a 4-1 run to tie the set up at 10 all.
With the things knotted up at 19, the Bruins attempted to sway the momentum in their favor. Jacobs scored a kill and two kills afterward came from sophomore outside/opposite hitter Iman Ndiaye to make the score 22-19. The pair of kills were two of Ndiaye’s four on the night.
The flow of play continued when a kill from graduate setter Shelby Martin brought the score to 24-22 and set point. After Fairfield responded with a kill, Dodson brought things home for the Bruins by smashing the ball down for the set-winning kill.
Similarly to the first two sets, the Bruins and Stags played close to one another in the third.
Midway through the set, senior defensive specialist/libero Zoe Fleck scored an ace to make the score 11-11 – only the second ace of the match by either team. Heading into the media timeout, the Bruins were down 15-14 and looking for answers to wrap up the match in a successful fashion.
Down 24-23 and needing a score to prevent a fourth set from getting started, senior outside/opposite hitter élan McCall kept a rally going with a diving save towards the back line. Martin then assisted May who powered a kill home to tie the score at 24.
Momentum carried UCLA the rest of the way. A Fairfield attack error and block assists from Martin and freshman middle blocker Francesca Alupei brought the score to 25-24 and set point. In a somewhat anticlimactic finish, the Stags believed they had scored a kill to keep the set alive, but a net violation was called, giving the Bruins the win.
UCLA had 37 digs in the match compared to Fairfield’s 30. Fleck led the Bruins with nine digs of her own.
Fairfield kept the match close through each set, with UCLA winning all three sets by the minimum two points.
UCLA will face UCF in the Second Round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship on Saturday at 7 p.m. The match will be televised on ESPN+ and be played at Pauley Pavilion.