UCLA men’s volleyball is wasting no time in getting more experience under its belt after the loss to Ohio State.
After playing its first three games on the road, No. 2 UCLA (2-1, 0-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will have a five-game homestand over the next few weeks, starting with No. 7 UC Irvine (4-0, 1-0) which comes to Pauley Pavilion on Thursday evening.
The Anteaters haven’t lost a game so far this season. Coach John Speraw said that their lineup is different from last year’s, during which they suffered significant injuries and finished with a 10-20, 7-15 record.
“It was not a very smooth year for them, so I anticipate them coming back with a renewed emphasis on being much more consistent,” Speraw said. “They’re big and they’ve got a lot of physicality. They’ve added some nice pieces and they serve the ball really well.”
UCLA has lost four of the last five meetings with UC Irvine, falling 2-3 to the Anteaters most recently at home in February.
Speraw served as head coach for UC Irvine for 10 years before filling the same position at his alma mater and returning to Pauley Pavilion. The Anteaters won two MPSF regular season titles and claimed three championship titles under his guidance.
“We know it’s going to be a big game, and Speraw always gets hyped for the UCI games,” said sophomore setter Micah Ma’a. “It’s our first home game, so there’s going to be a lot of emotion for sure.”
The team has a few solid practices before it takes on its competition in the MPSF.
“We’ve been working on serving a lot, digging and just trying to improve our overall game,” said junior outside hitter Jake Arnitz. “So that’s just the mentality that we go into practice with everyday.”
With a tough few weeks ahead of the players, Speraw said it’s great for the team to be able to face such challenging teams early and get a perspective of where they’re beginning the season.
UC Irvine leads the MPSF in digs per set with 10.69. The Anteaters have a lot of serving firepower in senior Michael Saeta who leads the MSPF in aces with a 0.92 average, and they have no lack of height at the net with freshman middle blocker Scott Stadick, who stands at 7 feet tall.
“The difficulty is that these matches hold so much importance with the criteria of making the Final Four at the end of the season, and yet it’s still so early,” Speraw said. “So we have to come in with a really high level of focus to get the important wins that we need.”