No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball returns all but two members of its starting lineup from last year.
But the 2018 Bruins, who swept their first three matches of the season, will no longer run a 6-2 offense like they did last year.
Coach John Speraw had then-senior Hagen Smith and then-sophomore Micah Ma’a splitting time as setters last season, when the Bruins missed the NCAA tournament. The 2017 team finished fifth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and No. 6 in the final American Volleyball Coaches Association National Poll.
“Last year I think we were spending so much time on like 6-2, 5-1 … personnel, and how to put them all together offensively,” Speraw said. “I think this year we know what our personnel is going to be. We know (Ma’a) is going to set a 5-1.”
Off the Block selected both senior outside hitter Jake Arnitz and Ma’a as pre-season All-Americans, with Arnitz on the first team and Ma’a on the second.
“I think at the end there, we showed our toughness,” Ma’a said after Saturday’s game. “In the past, we’ve had tough times and tight moments when it gets down to the wire, so I think we’ve done a good job of embracing it and playing together.”
One of the changes resulting from the rotation switch is the increased presence of senior opposite Christian Hessenauer.
Hessenauer had nine starts last year, but will now see more playing time with the adjusted offense as the main opposite hitter. The senior logged 12 kills against NJIT to lead the Bruins offensively in the 2018 season opener.
“(Hessenauer) is playing really well with (Ma’o),” Speraw said. “They’ve been playing faster overhead, I think that suits (Hessenauer’s) game, so I’m excited about that. This is his first opportunity to go out there his senior year and be the guy all season.”
Ma’a’s go-to hitters also include junior outside hitter Dylan Missry, redshirt senior middle blocker Oliver Martin, sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah and Arnitz. Ma’a, Martin and Arnitz put up a block against McKendree on Saturday that put the Bruins up 28-27 in the final set before winning it a point later.
Speraw said he plans to work with his middle hitters to improve their blocking. UCLA logged three blocks against King and 6.5 against McKendree.
“(Blocking) is the weakest part of our game right now and we can’t have that,” Speraw said. “It’s not even close.”
The Bruins have seven new additions to their roster this year after losing Smith, libero Jackson Bantle and middle blocker Mitch Stahl to graduation.
Several of the rookies saw game time in the first week of the season, with middle blocker Ian Parish earning two kills and a block against King.
Freshman libero Garland Peed also went in Friday for senior libero JT Hatch and picked up three digs, and freshman outside hitter Colin Bailey notched three kills against McKendree the following night.
“During practice, they’ve definitely earned their spot,” Arnitz said. “They work hard and for them to get playing time for the future, I think it’s a great opportunity for them to learn a lot. I think the biggest thing for this year is just trying to create that family, that brotherhood.”