UNIVERSITY BEAT / LONNIE WHITE : Volleyball Pair Want to End on High Note
With less than a month left in their final women’s volleyball regular season, USC’s Kelly Kuebler and UCLA’s Jenny Johnson are geared to end their college careers on high notes.
Kuebler and Johnson have earned reputations as team leaders and are skillful enough to leave their names high on many of their schools’ record lists.
This season, however, they have had to lead young teams that have struggled at times. UCLA is 14-6 overall, USC 11-6. The teams are tied for third in the Pacific 10 Conference with 8-5 records.
“Basically, this has been a growing year for both teams,” said Kuebler, whose Trojans will try to sweep UCLA for the first time since 1982 when they play Friday night at the Lyon Center. USC, which had lost 17 consecutive matches to UCLA, defeated the Bruins in five games Oct. 6 at Pauley Pavilion.
Kuebler leads USC with 274 kills, giving her 1,248 total. She also leads the Trojans with 219 digs, giving her 1,312, and holds the distinction of having more than 1,000 in kills and digs.
“I really didn’t know that I had that many,” said Kuebler, who played in the World University games last summer. “It’s nice to know, but what’s important to me is to know that my teammates liked playing with me.”
Kuebler wants to play in one more NCAA tournament and a sweep over UCLA would help.
“Wouldn’t that be great?” she said when asked about a sweep. “That’s something that we haven’t done around here for a long time.
“Beating them would also help our tournament chances. We lost a couple of tough matches against Arizona State and Washington. So, not only would us defeating them give us confidence, but it would also show we can play with anybody.”
Johnson’s story differs in that the Bruins started the season hoping to reach the NCAA championship game for the second consecutive year.
Although she played most of the season with a stress fracture in her lower right leg, Johnson also has surpassed the 1,000 mark in kills and digs.
With 1,065 kills and 1,046 digs, she is closing in on UCLA’s career leaders in both categories, but said she is more concerned about getting the Bruins on a roll going heading into the NCAA tournament.
“I think our win over Pepperdine [Oct. 24] was a turning point for us,” Johnson said. “It was the first time all season that we clicked all game. It was a real positive.”
Johnson, the daughter of former Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson, has not won an NCAA title. In her freshman and junior seasons, the Bruins lost to Stanford in the final.
This season, UCLA has lost more matches than any Bruin team since 1987.
“I think that the losses we suffered in the first half of the season will only help us,” Johnson said. "[The losses] only make us hungrier to win the NCAA championship.”
The hottest women’s volleyball team in the Southland going into Wednesday night’s matches was Loyola Marymount, which had won nine in a row and 15 of its last 16 matches. The Lions, however, lost Wednesday to Long Beach State in three games.
Coach Steve Stratos’ Lions had swept their previous six opponents and had won 19 consecutive games.
University Beat Notes
USC freshman Tara Koleski has scored or assisted on 20 of the Trojans’ 36 women’s soccer goals this season. Her 30 points and 10 assists are single-season school records. USC, 8-8-1, will complete its season Sunday against Oregon State at Howard Jones Field. . . . UCLA did not win its own MetLife men’s soccer tournament last weekend, losing to Brown and tying Washington, but the Bruins’ Tahj Jakins was named the tournament’s most valuable defensive player.