They’re the same, only better.
With all of last season’s starters returning to the squad, the UCLA men’s volleyball team was able to find enough rhythm to sweep their season opener on Tuesday.
“It’s literally year two with the same guys,” said senior middle blocker Mitch Stahl. “We’re really good at playing with each other because we did it all last year and we understand each other better now. We’ve had an offseason to perfect what we do.”
No. 2 UCLA (1-0) starts the season off right behind Ohio State in the pre-season AVCA Coaches Top 25 polls, and met the No. 11 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (0-1) at Gentile Arena for both teams’ debut.
The Bruins bring their all-time undefeated record to 7-0 against the Ramblers with this win, the last meeting having taken place in 2011.
Neither team was able to make a significant run at the beginning of the first set, with the game still tied at ten.
“We know it’s early in the season and things may not be as sharp as we hope,” said coach John Speraw. “This time of the year, you typically aren’t as efficient offensively as you’d like to be. So we talked about how disciplined we need to be on defense and with our block.”
Both teams struggled with serving early on, with Loyola-Chicago collecting a total of 13 service errors and UCLA with 10.
“We did a really good job of adapting tonight,” Stahl said. “We missed some jump serves early on, so we went to floats and they were effective.”
The Bruins took a four-point lead at 15-11 and remained in control of the set from there, taking set one 25-19. UCLA hit .333 in the preliminary set, compared to the Ramblers’ .074.
Loyola-Chicago pulled ahead for the first time in the match 7-6 during the second set, with outside hitter Will Tischler posing an offensive challenge to the Bruins.
The Ramblers struggled to catch up from there though, as UCLA responded to earn as much as a seven-point lead, outblocking Loyola-Chicago 11-2 during the match and claiming set two 25-18.
The Bruins were even more dominant in the final set, leaving the Ramblers trailing by as much as nine points.
With a kill from Stahl, UCLA finished things off 25-16 to close out the match, hitting .630 in the final frame. Speraw said he was happy to see the team hitting for such a high percentage, especially considering the short turnover time between winter break and the beginning of the season.
“It’s hard to come into a first game when you only have about 5 practices under your belt after break, so we all had to be on it and just play hard,” said junior outside hitter Jake Arnitz, who led the team in kills with a total of 11. “We knew the touches weren’t always gonna be there for such an early game in the season.”
Sophomore Micah Ma’a posted 19 assists while senior Hagen Smith tallied 13. Speraw said that the two setters will continue running the team’s 6-2 system that they implemented during last year’s season.
“We’re obviously in a position where it’s okay right now, just because we have some continuity,” Speraw said. “But we also have to pick apart its weaknesses. I think because we’ve done it for a year now, we have a pretty firm grasp of what we need to work on, so we’re starting that process now.”
UCLA will face Penn State and Ohio State this weekend in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge at the AVCA Showcase in Columbus, Ohio.