The UCLA men’s volleyball team enters its last nonconference match of the season looking for the same outcome that has defined the rest of its nonconference play – a relatively uneventful win.
The No. 4 Bruins (18-3, 13-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will take on the unranked Concordia-Irvine Eagles (10-3) on Friday night in Pauley Pavilion.
Nonconference matches are different, from a preparation standpoint, because UCLA only plays each of its nonconference opponents once this season.This means that the teams have never seen each other before and, as coach John Speraw said, the Bruins are going in near blind.
“I think we need to spend a lot more time getting to know them,” Speraw said. “You only got one shot, they’re real important and these teams could have a big impact on the at-large bid, so we need to really prepare because you’re just not as familiar with them.”
In the case of the Bruins versus the Eagles, this will be their first meeting in history.
UCLA is in the midst of a five-match winning streak against ranked teams such as No. 7 UC Santa Barbara and No. 15 California Baptist. All the while, the Bruins have really felt the the strong emotions of crunch-time volleyball.
“It’s a mental thing,” said redshirt sophomore middle blocker Oliver Martin. “Sometimes we’re too high or too low. We really just have to try and stay level.”
The Eagles were on a two-match winning streak, with victories over Hope International University and Grand Canyon University, before falling to UCSB in four sets Wednesday night.
The Bruins and Eagles each have statistical leaders with similar numbers in major offensive and defensive categories.
Sophomore outside hitter Jake Arnitz leads the Bruins with 3.20 kills per set followed by fellow sophomore outside hitter JT Hatch at a 2.52 clip.
The Eagles have a comparable offensive output with junior outside hitters Andrew Hammer and Devin Ross, as they lead the team with 3.16 and 2.85 respectively.
On the defensive side, the Bruins are led by junior middle blocker Mitch Stahl and freshman libero Davis Gillett in blocks and digs respectively.
The Eagles, however, don’t back down defensively – matching up evenly with their duo of senior libero Griffin Ender and freshman middle blocker Hunter Howell.
Despite the similarities in numbers, stat lines don’t tell the whole story.
The Bruins, in the dominant volleyball conference that is the MPSF, have a schedule filled with a plethora of top-15 teams with rare unranked opponents being the exceptions.
The Eagles, however, have only played five of their previous 14 matches against ranked opponents, and only three of those ranked teams reside in the top 10.
This interesting match up between an MPSF powerhouse and a conference-less squad contains yet another intriguing aspect – Eagles coach Shawn Patchell.
Patchell was a member of Brigham Young University’s first NCAA men’s volleyball team where he started all four years.
After playing professionally, Patchell began his coaching careers at various SoCal high schools before landing at, now powerhouse, BYU as an assistant coach from 2002-2006 and then head coach from 2006-2010.
BYU saw major success during 2003 and 2004 but could not mimic that under the helm of Patchell.
After a short stint at NCAA Division III Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, Patchell became the head coach of Concordia’s men’s volleyball team, leading his teams to major National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes success in his first two seasons.
During yet another successful season, the Eagles will get to test their merit against the MPSF powerhouse that is UCLA.
“Usually most of the teams in our league, we’ve seen them before,” Hatch said. “Concordia Irvine, I don’t think we’ve seen them at all yet. We have to watch some film – which is what it really all boils down to. And, many times, whether we can take care of our side of the net determines the win or loss.”