For the UCLA men’s volleyball team, the next few games of this young season will be about finding an identity.
The No. 5 Bruins (2-1) take on California State University, Northridge (0-0) tonight at Pauley Pavilion, and have spent this week reflecting on a positive showing in the Asics Invitational tournament in Santa Barbara, Calif. They ultimately fell in a thrilling five-set match against No. 1 UC Irvine.
While most of the takeaways from the tournament were encouraging, the Bruins have yet to pinpoint a particular style of play.
“We were good in a lot of different areas (during the tournament), but we need to become great in some of those areas,” first-year coach John Speraw said. “I’d like to see us continue to improve some aspect of our style of play where we can say, ‘Hey, this is what we are, this is what we’re great at’ and I don’t think we’ve really identified what we’re great at yet.”
A true identity may still be lacking, but the early results definitely gave Bruin supporters reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season. One positive from the tournament stood out; the Bruins did something in the first game against UC Santa Barbara (2-1) that they failed to do all of last year.
“Not once last year did we lose the first set and go on to win the game, and we did that to start this year,” redshirt senior opposite hitter Scott Vegas said.
The Bruins not only lost the first set of that game but also the second, going on to rally for a five-set victory. In the final match against UC Irvine, UCLA once again lost the first two sets but nearly won in five sets.
These games were an early testament to the team’s fighting spirit, something that they will hold onto as the team moves forward into games of greater importance.
“The biggest strength we’ve seen so far this year is that we don’t get too fazed by being down,” Speraw said. “We’ve shown we can go five sets and battle with teams no matter what the circumstances are. I thought we showed some real fight.”
Aside from their never-say-die attitude, another positive sign for the Bruins in this early season stretch is their aura of unity.
“We’re definitely playing a lot as a team at this stage,” Vegas said. “We’re more of a community instead of a whole bunch of individuals.”
That sense of togetherness was widespread throughout the team, and junior outside hitter Robart Page credited the new coaching staff for the new feeling of unity.
“It’s a new program with new structure; it’s a lot less based on individual play and more on the whole team,” Page said.
Speraw is taking over this year for Al Scates, who retired after 50 years as the Bruins’ head coach. Speraw himself played for Scates at UCLA.
When asked about what it was like to be the Bruins’ new coach, Speraw lit up. “Being in this gym, it means a tremendous amount. This is where I learned to play the game at a high level,” Speraw said. “It’s emotional for me, this is really home. I’m a Bruin and it’s incredible to be here.”