The Bruins face some of their hardest matches of the season this weekend in the AVCA Men’s Showcase.
Coming off its victory against UC San Diego on Tuesday, No. 2 UCLA (5-0) is set to play the two-time defending national champions No. 3 Ohio State (2-1), as well as No. 9 Penn State (2-0) in Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins have played both teams a number of times over the past six years, winning four out of six matches against Ohio State and four out of five against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have been a strong team this decade, making it to six Final Four appearances in the last eight years. The last time they won the NCAA championship was in 2008 and they are still coached by the man who led that winning team, Mark Pavlik.
Junior outside hitter Dylan Missry commented on the challenges UCLA will face from Penn State.
“I don’t know too much about Penn State but I’m aware they recruit big guys,” Missry said. “They redshirt them and give them a lot of experience. So I assume we’re going to see a tall team with a lot of power and a well-coached team by (Pavlik).”
A notable match against the Ohio State Buckeyes was the 2016 NCAA championship game. The Bruins lost in five sets (2-3) to the Buckeyes, beginning their two-time championship winning streak.
A major challenge for UCLA will be Ohio State’s senior outside hitter Nicolas Szerszen. The Frenchman has won the National Player of the Year award twice, in 2016 and 2017. He is a major component of an incredible Buckeye serving team, as he is setting an NCAA best with 0.64 aces/set clip and leads the team this season with 43 kills in three games thus far, including a season-high 19 kills against No. 5 BYU.
Junior opposite/setter Micah Ma’a noted Szerszen’s ability and the difficulties that come with defending him.
“I think everyone has that problem, that’s why he’s continued to play so well. But he just has an unbelievable serve and he’s a really good overall player,” Ma’a said. “He can affect the game from the back row and the front row, through attack and playing some good defense.”
UCLA coach John Speraw commented on how the Bruins will try to defend against Szerszen.
“(Szerszen) is really difficult to defend. He constantly puts pressure on us,” Speraw said. “We’re going to study him and see how we execute, and hopefully we just serve tough enough to put their system in some compromised situations.”
For Missry, it will be a matter of adapting to Ohio State’s big serves, especially with Szerszen behind the serving line.
“I mean, when Szerszen is serving, I think it’s going to be important to have a mindset of not passing every ball right on (Ma’a’s) head,” Missry said. “I think we’ve got to take what he gives us and if we pass the ball 10 feet, I think we can still run our offense and do what we do well.”