Women's Volleyball Match of the Week preview: Colorado at No. 9 UCLA
Who: Colorado at No. 9 UCLA
When: 7:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Networks, with Anne Marie Anderson and Amy Gant on the call.
The first full week of the final month of the regular season gets started in Westwood, where a surging Bruins squad will look to make it nine wins in their last 10 with the tourney-aspiring Buffs coming to town.
The Story so Far: Colorado (14-10, 6-6 Pac-12)
You’d figure that since Colorado got swept at home by the Bruins earlier this season, all is lost for the Buffs on the road – but hold that thought for a moment. Since that match, the Fighting Liz Kritzas are 4-2 with wins over then-No. 6 Stanford at home and then-No. 14 Arizona on the road to get itself right in the middle of the Pac. As long as the Buffs can hold around its .500 conference record the rest of the way, they should feel pretty good about their chances of playing in the NCAA tournament.
However, that won’t be easy – Colorado’s next five opponents are all ranked in the LA schools, the Arizonas and Stanford, so the Buffs will definitely earn a 10-10 Pac-12 mark if they are able to achieve it. The silver lining around such a tough schedule is that it will certainly boost the Buffs’ RPI of 70, which you would think wouldn’t be good enough as it stands for an NCAA bid (the RPI cutoff last year for at-large team was in the high-40s).
However this season plays out, enough can’t be said about the job head coach Liz Kritza has done in Boulder for having transformed a team that was consistently losing 20-plus games per season overall while playing in a weaker league into an NCAA tournament team in just its third year in the Pac-12. Once a proud volleyball program that had went to 11 consecutive NCAA tournaments, Colorado suffered six straight losing seasons (including four with 20-plus losses) before Kritza and Co. completed the revival in 2013. Now, the Buffs are looking for their third consecutive NCAA tournament.
The Story so Far: UCLA (18-4, 9-3 Pac-12)
Things have been going swimmingly since we last saw the Bruins on a Wednesday nighter, when UCLA lifted the lid on the Pac-12 Networks Women’s Volleyball Match of the Week series with a three-set loss against crosstown rival USC. After a 1-2 start to conference play, the Bruins reeled off eight consecutive victories, including three against ranked opponents, before falling in four sets to now-No. 3 Washington in Seattle (it’s nearly impossible to win on the Huskies’ court with those rowdy fans basically standing on top of the players).
Now, UCLA has to feel like it has a good shot of moving into at least a share of second place heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, as the Bruins kick off a four-match homestand against unranked opponents. Meanwhile, second-place Washington has to travel to the desert to play a pair of top-20 Arizona schools (though Arizona State clearly isn’t what it was when it was at 100 percent health in August and September) and host Stanford in its next three matches. The Cardinal have to embark on a four-match road swing to the Pacific Northwest that includes the aforementioned match against the Huskies. As long as the Bruins take care of business at home, they are guaranteed to either be in third all alone or tied for second depending on who wins the Stanford-Washington battle with four matches to go.
Three Players to Watch: Colorado
- #3 Alexis Austin (Outside Hitter, Senior) – One of three team captains, Austin commands the attack to the tune of 4.02 kills per set and ripped off a season-high 27 kills in the five-set win over Oregon State last Friday. Earlier this year, she became the 15th Buff in program history to register 1,000 career kills and is the rally-scoring era record holder with 1,325 kills (sixth all time).
- #5 Nicole Edelman (Setter, Senior) – Edelman is a rare four-year team captain and leads the team with 9.62 assists per set; impressive considering the Buffs started out the year running a 6-2 (using two setters) for a few matches, thus giving her fewer opportunities to rack up assists. She piled up 102 of them in an 8-set weekend against the Bay Area schools in the middle of October.
- #10 Cierra Simpson (Defensive Specialist/Setter, Junior) – Simpson leads the team with 383 digs and that 4.12 per set average has jumped up to 4.76 in conference-only matches. She had 31 digs on two separate occasions this season (Oct. 9 vs. USC and Oct. 16 vs. Cal), and one of those contests only went four sets. She is the third Buffalo to notch 30 digs in two separate matches and became the 14th Buff to register 1,000 career digs.
Three Players to Watch: UCLA
- #2 Jordan Anderson (Outside Hitter, Junior) – The West Virginia transfer is second in the Pac-12 with 4.75 kills per set, which is also seventh nationally and has hit the 20-kill mark in seven matches this year.
- #3 Reily Buechler (Outside Hitter, Sophomore) – The daughter of former Chicago Bull (and Arizona volleyball All-American) Jud Buechler has been on a roll lately, notching double-doubles in three of her last four matches. She was especially impressive in the four-set loss at Washington Sunday, totaling up 17 kills and 12 digs.
- #9 Zana Muno (Setter, Freshman) – Let’s stay on this double-double kick – the collegiate rookie from Hermosa Beach has racked ‘em up in four straight games. She’s about a week and a half removed from one of her best performances of the season, when she had 52 assists and 24 digs (both season/career highs) against Oregon State on Oct. 25 (a five-set victory).
Three Notes to Know
- Better take the first set from the Bruins – Colorado will be in trouble if the Bruins claim the first set – UCLA is 17-0 this season when taking the first game. On the other hand, UCLA is just 1-4 when losing the first set, so if Colorado can jump out early, the odds will be in its favor.
- The meeting in Boulder – UCLA swept Colorado but needed a 26-24 result in the first set before making quicker work of the Buffs in the second and third sets (26-24, 25-15, 25-19). UCLA outhit the Buffs .343-.200 for the match, including a .464-.200 disparity in the second set. Individually, Jordan Anderson hit .444 on 20 kills for the Bruins (she was cookin’), while Alexis Austin had 12 kills on a .250 efficiency rate.
- Colorado consistency – Colorado has hit the same in conference matches as it has all season (.233), making the Buffs one of just two Pac-12 teams to hit as well as or better than they have in all matches this year (Stanford being the other).