Storied UCLA volleyball program visits Northwestern State today

NSU FRONTLINER:  Breanna Burrell (right), shown attacking last season against UIW, will help lead the Lady Demons into a match today against four-time NCAA volleyball champion UCLA in Prather Coliseum. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By BRAD WELBORN, Northwestern State Athletic Media Relations

NATCHITOCHES – The first home match of any season brings a certain level of intrigue and excitement in any sport. Those things get ratcheted up considerably when the visitor is a four-time national champion and one of the sport’s most iconic programs.

For the first time, Northwestern State will host a former NCAA champion program inside Prather Coliseum when NSU and the UCLA Bruins toss up the ball at 12:30 today. Admission is free.

“It’s a big deal to have them here,” NSU head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “It’s a big deal to me and I hope that other people appreciate that as well. We’re not just talking about a Power 5 school but a national champion, a program that has some of the best history in all of women’s volleyball. 

“As someone that grew up with the sport, played it for years and has had it be a huge part of my life for many years, UCLA is synonymous with volleyball on both the men’s and women’s sides. So, it’s going to certainly be a cool moment for me to welcome them to our home court.” 

The match can be seen live on ESPN+ with Shreveporter Patrick Netherton calling the contest.

Both the Lady Demons (0-3) and the Bruins (1-1) are coming off a weekend of play at SEC schools. NSU dropped all three of its matches in the StarkVegas Classic hosted by Mississippi State while UCLA split a pair of five-set thrillers in Baton Rouge against LSU. Both teams enter the match still sorting out their strengths and weaknesses on the early season. 

Northwestern put up good blocking numbers across all three matches, no surprise with the return of freshmen powerhouse middles Reaghan Thompson and Jordan Gamble. The addition of Tessa Gerwig, who led the team in kills in each of the past two matches, and Teresa Garza have added more depth, athleticism and offense to a crop of talented options on the pins. 

The main focus for the Lady Demons as they enter the second week of the season is finding the consistency in first touches, either from serves or opponent attacks, that allow them to utilize the multitude of options available on the offensive end and use them effectively. 

“We have the offensive weapons to make almost anyone in the country respect us from that stand point if we are in system,” Kiracofe said. “If we are in system we can put the ball away, we saw that in that third set against Mississippi State. That in turn makes the other team think about how to stop you instead of how they want to attack on their end or experiment with their offense.” 

The Bruins, under first-year head coach Alfee Reft, pushed an emerging LSU team in both matches over the weekend. They forced a fifth set, but lost, after falling behind 2-0 on Friday and  recovered Saturday when they closed out a win by hitting .250 or better in each of the final four sets and did not commit an attack error in the pivotal fifth set. 

UCLA has seven newcomers, including a freshman setter in Ashley Mullen, joining with a group of experienced and touted upperclassmen. Pac-12 preseason first-team pick Anna Dodson and the Bruins’ top returning attacker, Iman Ndiaye, who each had over 250 kills a year ago, are the first two offensive threats for the Bruins.