UCLA men’s volleyball was tested Thursday by its first of two top-10 opponents it will face this week.
“I was pleased to see that we were under pressure at times and how we played,” coach John Speraw said. “So, overall I was pleased that we played against a good team and learned.”
No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (6-0) defeated No. 9 Penn State (2-1) in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Men’s Showcase on Thursday in four sets for its sixth win in a row.
The Nittany Lions played a competitive game, matching the Bruins point for point early in each set, but UCLA’s true opponent was itself. The Bruins logged 19 service errors on the night and only six aces.
Senior outside hitter/libero JT Hatch and senior opposite Christian Hessenauer lead the Bruins with 11 kills each. Hatch transitioned to libero from outside hitter this season. However, with senior outside hitter Jake Arnitz still recovering from the flu, Hatch returned to his former position.
“It was easy – I did it for three years so it’s not too much of a change,” Hatch said.
Hatch’s transition to outside hitter left the court open for freshman libero Garland Peed to start and play the entire match.
“I had my ups and downs,” Peed said. “I just had fun playing with the team and they’re really supportive of me even if I wasn’t playing well.”
In set one, UCLA nabbed an early lead with a 3-point scoring streak that forced a Penn State timeout. Following the break, UCLA tallied four aces, two apiece by junior outside hitter Dylan Missry and sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah.
Both Hatch and Hessenauer notched four kills each in the first set, equivalent to the the entire Nittany Lions team. The Bruins hit for .474 taking the set at 25-15, but the other sets were determined by a closer margin.
Set two was a closer race, with the Nittany Lions tightening their offensive arsenal as Penn State’s redshirt senior outside hitter Aidan Albrecht notched three kills.
UCLA’s offense also stalled, logging 10 service errors, seven attack errors and hitting .172 on the set. The Bruins fell to the Nittany Lions 19-25 in set two.
“I personally struggled with their serve receive, and I think they’re a pretty good blocking team,” Peed said. “But I think we were able to manage it all in the end and keep fighting through the ups and downs.”
Set three was a similar narrative, with each team trading points until 13-13, when Hatch finally broke the stalemate and logged three consecutive kills. The Bruins took set three 25-20.
Set four had each team alternating points until both sides eventually closed out the match with a Penn State service error at 25-22.
Speraw said the Bruins still need to work on offensive strategy and passing prior to the match against No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday.
“Ohio State’s maybe the best serving team in the country and so, no matter what we’re trying to do offensively, we’re going have to play good, out-of-system volleyball on Saturday,” Speraw said.