After missing the NCAA tournament last year, Mac May said she took it upon herself to ensure UCLA didn’t miss the college volleyball postseason again.

On Friday, May will re-take the tournament stage close to home with one of the highest honors in the sport to her name.

May was named the Pac-12 Conference player of the year on Tuesday, three days before she’s set to swing down to Madison, Wis., for the NCAA tournament opener against Notre Dame.

A 2017 Dubuque Wahlert graduate, the now-junior UCLA outside hitter is in the midst of a career year. She’s looking forward to showcasing her high level of play before a Madison crowd that’s going to have a heavy family and friend presence.

“Honestly, it completely caught me by surprise,” May said of being named the Pac-12’s top player. “There are so many great volleyball players in the Pac-12 who I thought would come before me. ... This honor means that much more just because there are so many really great players in this conference.”

In addition to her player of the year award, May also was named to the all-Pac-12 team for the second time. These honors go onto a growing resume that shows May is one of the nation’s elite college players.

The past two springs, May has helped the UCLA beach volleyball team to back-to-back national championships. She was an all-Pac-12 freshman team player two years ago when the Bruins last made the indoor tournament.

That experience, she hopes, will lend itself to a deep postseason run. If the Bruins (18-11) get past the Fighting Irish, their next opponent will likely be fourth-ranked Wisconsin, which is hosting the first two rounds.

“As soon as I saw (that UCLA was coming to Madison), I thought that it was the most perfect outcome that could’ve happened,” said May, adding that her older brother lives in Madison. “People who haven’t been able to see me play college volleyball in person are going to be there. It’s probably the most perfect location for me.

“I can’t wait to just play in front of everyone. I’m just going to play my game and hopefully we have a great result.”

May became the sixth Bruin to win conference player of the year and first since 1994. She was the Pac-12’s second leading scorer at 5.53 points per set with a conference-leading 0.41 aces per set average. Hitting-wise, she finished with 4.84 kills per set, also good for second in the league. Her kills and points averages are also good for 13th and ninth, respectively, in the country.

May was also named the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Week on Oct. 29 and earned two conference player of the week honors this season.

While May has always been an exceptional hitter, ranking second all-time in Wahlert’s kills leaderboard and guiding the Golden Eagles to a state championship in 2016, she said the biggest difference in her play this year has been her improved passing. After missing the tournament in 2018, May said she wanted to work to become a six-rotation impact player and someone the Bruins could rely on defensively and in serve receive.

“I knew that in order to be a better player, I’d have to get better at my passing game,” May said, adding that she’d ask coaches to serve at her after practices to improve her play. “I was really committed this season to working my butt off. ... It’s really cool for me to see because I want the team to do so well.”

May’s main focus is on the weekend, and she believes the Bruins are ready to “surprise some people” when they take the floor. But the Player of the Year award could also mean bigger things for her down the road.

It’s a nice resume piece for someone hoping to play professionally when her college days are over. May is also considering trying out for the Team USA college national team when the season is over.

“Looking forward, I think it helps my case when I’m trying to get on a team (professionally),” May said.

First serve for UCLA-Notre Dame is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at the Kohl Center. The winner will advance to Saturday’s second-round match at 6 p.m. against either Wisconsin or Illinois State.

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