Twenty-five of UCLA’s serves did not find the court Saturday – the second-highest number of missed serves in a match this season.
The only time the Bruins missed more serves, they lost.
No. 6 UCLA men’s volleyball (15-7, 8-6 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) took down Concordia (17-9) on Saturday in five sets by scores of 25-22, 23-25, 23-25, 25-16, 15-9.
A major contribution to the Bruins’ losses in the second and third sets was their serving. Although it was a weakness throughout the night, 21 serving errors came in the first three sets alone.
“I wish I had some answers to the serving in general,” said coach John Speraw. “I don’t know exactly why we missed so many early, I really don’t. It obviously cost us lots and lots of points. … I don’t know, it’s not from lack of emphasis, let’s just put it that way.”
Junior outside hitter/libero JT Hatch said that the touches just weren’t there, and after the second and third sets he was just happy to get out of the gym with a win.
UCLA hit .333 and .179 in the sets the team lost compared to .349 on the match. In both, the Bruins were within striking distance but the Eagles consistently won the long rallies.
“I think it was executing on tendencies,” said senior opposite/libero Jackson Bantle. “Speraw talked a lot about how we weren’t necessarily taking what we scouted them for. They were very good at sticking to what they’re good at and we weren’t able to adapt until a little bit later.”
Speraw credited Concordia’s play in transition and its out-of-system plays for the tight match, along with the performance of libero Jacob Weiser, who finished the night with seven digs.
“They got every single play that were long rallies,” Speraw said. “Credit to them, they played a great volleyball match and their libero on the other side is the best libero I’ve seen this season. That guy was unbelievable.”
While Speraw has made alterations with the lineup throughout the season, he made two position changes in the third and fourth sets that surprised even his team.
Bantle, normally a libero, was substituted in at the opposite position to replace junior opposite Christian Hessenauer late in the third set and played in that position for the remainder of the match. Bantle notched four kills and two block assists in his first time in the front row this season.
“I haven’t really been doing it in practice at all, but I guess I’m technically the second opposite now that (sophomore opposite/setter Micah Ma’a) is hurt and (senior setter Hagen Smith) has to set,” Bantle said. “There was a thought in the back of my mind that I might come in, but I was just as surprised as everybody else was.”
At the beginning of the fourth set, Hatch, typically an outside hitter, took the court in the contrasting blue libero jersey. Normally an outside who plays through the front and back, the back row is not foreign to Hatch, but he has still not played libero this season.
“I just thought down 2-1 would be a time to try something and there’s not much more room for experimentation, so that was an opportunity for us to take a look at it,” Speraw said. “JT gives us a lot, and when he’s over on the sideline you miss him, and so to get him on the volleyball court is advantageous for us.”