There were plenty of new faces on the court during Friday night’s nonconference match between UCLA and Concordia – on both sides of the net.
The No. 4 Bruins (19-3, 13-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) trotted out a number of its reserve players to face the Eagles (10-5) in Pauley Pavilion. UCLA made quick work of the visitors, sweeping the first-ever meeting between the two squads by scores of 25-23, 25-21, 25-18.
Four players with less than 10 starts this year found themselves starting for UCLA, including junior outside hitter Michael Fisher in his sixth start of the season. Often the first reserve off the bench, Fisher unleashed a career-high 17 kills and hit at a blistering .516 clip.
“I was just having one of those nights I guess, sometimes you just get lucky,” Fisher said. “Everybody’s working really hard in practice so to get that lead and be able to get a bunch of guys in is awesome.”
While Concordia holds a solid overall record this season, it has struggled against the MPSF, with all of its losses coming against teams in the West Coast powerhouse league. That didn’t stop the Eagles from putting up a fight, though, as the Bruins’ night got off to a rocky start.
UCLA’s opening set was plagued by poor offense – wild passes and errant swings – coupled with a weak defense that tallied a single block. The Bruins ultimately hit just .154, a worse mark than the Eagles’.
“(Freshman setter/hitter Micah Ma’a) hasn’t necessarily set these guys very much so there were some connection issues early on that worked themselves out a little bit better as the match progressed,” said coach John Speraw.
Also contributing to the first set woes was the team’s sideout percentage of just 54 percent. That subpar rate allowed the visitors to go on five different runs of at least three points in a row, nearly taking the set before UCLA regrouped to win 25-23. The Bruins steadily improved, taking the next sets by slightly more comfortable margins.
A pair of usual junior starters, middle blocker Mitch Stahl and setter Hagen Smith, were sidelined with walking boots on their left legs. Speraw said the veterans had been resting this week and would get the next week off with the entire team.
Joining them by the bench were two more common starters, sophomore outside hitters Jake Arnitz and JT Hatch. Hatch entered the match briefly, but the offensive duo enjoyed most of the night off.
Over the course of the match, Speraw was able to find playing time for a number of other players, including sophomore setter Eric Matheis and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Eric Sprague. Freshmen libero Spencer Sachs and outside hitter Dominic Brousard made appearances late in the third set, much to the delight of the home crowd.
“As we’ve settled into a consistent starting lineup, a lot of these guys haven’t had as much time as maybe we would have hoped, so this is a good opportunity for them to get used to this environment,” Speraw said. “If we need to down the stretch, we’ll go to them and they need to be comfortable.”
Helping guide the young group on the court was sophomore opposite Christian Hessenauer. A stalwart in the 2015 lineup, the underclassman made his first start of the season Friday.
“I feel like our team is pretty deep, so to get everybody playing is great to boost confidence,” Hessenauer said. “Finals are coming up so it was just about getting the mindset tonight knowing that we’ll have a week off and then get ready for playoffs.”
With the sweep, UCLA won its 12th set in a row and remains on a six-match winning streak as the team enters a two-week hiatus for finals and spring break. The Bruins will have a pair of matches during the last days of the academic break against the No. 10 CSUN Matadors and the No. 1 Long Beach State 49ers.