Following a loss to unranked USC, UCLA has two games left this week to end the regular season.
“We have to win, without a doubt,” said senior opposite Christian Hessenauer.
No. 5 UCLA men’s volleyball (20-6, 7-3 MPSF) will host unranked Stanford (6-17, 3-7) on Thursday and No. 2 BYU (19-5, 9-1) on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA was upset by USC (7-17, 3-7) in five sets last weekend, a damaging loss regarding entry into the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins’ chances to qualify for the NCAA Tournament are with an at-large bid or a victory in the conference tournament. UCLA is tied for second with No. 4 Pepperdine in MPSF conference rankings.
In the latest RPI poll of the regular season, UCLA sits second behind No. 1 Long Beach State. The RPI is heavily leaned on by the committee when seeding the NCAA Tournament. VolleyMob.com stated in its latest bracket prediction that the Bruins are in position for one of two at-large bids to the tournament, especially with a win over BYU this week.
However, if the Bruins lose their upcoming match against the Cardinal, back-to-back losses to unranked teams could be irreversibly ruinous to their season resume and postseason ambitions. Coach John Speraw said the team expects to face a fresh Stanford team.
“I think Stanford is probably energized and excited that they are finally at full strength,” Speraw said. “We’ve known all season long that their record didn’t indicate what kind of team they were capable of being, so we know we’re in for a great volleyball match.”
UCLA beat Stanford 3-1 in March, but the Cardinal was without two of their key players – setter Paul Bischoff and outside hitter Jordan Ewert. In their past two games with the duo returning, the Cardinal hit for .354 on average, well above its season average of .264.
Junior outside hitter Dylan Missry said the Bruins face difficult matchups against Stanford and BYU.
“Stanford should be good – they have (Bischoff) back. Their setter gives them a little more size and a formidable block on the right side,” Missry said. “BYU obviously doesn’t have a ton of size, but they’re good jumpers and super physical so they’ll have some really live arms. They’re both going to be really challenging matches.”
BYU sits first in the MPSF standings, and a victory against Pepperdine could guarantee them the top seed in the conference tournament. The Cougars swept the Bruins in their visit to Provo, Utah, earlier in the season.
The Cougars are the best blocking team in the country, with 2.9 blocks per set. Offensively, they average a hitting percentage of .310 whilst limiting their opponents to .248.
With a place in the postseason at stake, the Bruins will have to return to their winning ways. After the conclusion of the regular season, UCLA will participate in the MPSF Tournament from April 14 to 21.