UCLA men’s volleyball coach John Speraw demands one thing from his players at the service line – give it your best swing.
At the end of last season, poor serving proved to be one of the factors that lead to the Bruins’ exit from the NCAA Tournament. Thus, from early in the season, serving has been a main focus this year.
“We work on (serving) every day because the final two games of last season, that was our kryptonite,” said junior outside hitter Jake Arnitz early in the season. “We’ve been working on it a lot and we know that’s one of the most important parts of the game.”
And all that work has seemingly paid off.
On the season, the Bruins have far outrun their opponents when it comes to service aces. They have notched 171 while their opponents, collectively, have mustered a mere 96.
When it comes to errors, UCLA has posted 90 more than its opponents this year.
At times, however, this strategy can fail.
In the final game of the regular season, the Bruins fell to the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors in four sets while notching 31 service errors – the most in one game this season.
And 15 of those errors came during a first set in which UCLA had 11 set points.
Redshirt junior middle blocker Eric Sprague said that many of the Bruins’ errors happened during periods of high pressure or after being iced, but all they can do is work at it in practice and try to simulate those situations.
“It’s just in the gym, you have to practice how you play,” Sprague said. “But now we really know that we’re in playoff season so I think that’s really going to flip the switch that we need.”
Even when racking up errors and not getting aces, serving hard can throw the opposing team out of its system and give one side the advantage right at the start of the rally.
But looking beyond a couple of outlying games, such as against Hawai’i, UCLA has been a solid serving team all year long, generally keeping the errors in the teens or low 20s.
It’s high-powered swings from behind the line that have led the Bruins to boast the fourth-highest number of aces per set in the country – and the highest in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
“I know last year and years past (serving) has been to our detriment,” said senior opposite/libero Jackson Bantle in an interview prior to UCLA’s BYU matches. “But this year, I think we’ve filled up a lot of our gaps. We’ve grown a lot, so I think that we’re a little bit better now.”