The Bruins accomplished something the program had not been able to do in almost half a decade.
No. 5 UCLA men’s volleyball (22-6, 9-3 MPSF) swept No. 2 BYU (20-6, 10-2) on Saturday night by scores of 25-21, 25-23 and 25-22.
Playing in front of a larger-than-normal crowd of 5,671 on senior night, it was the first time the Bruins had beat the Cougars since the 2014 season.
UCLA controlled the game with continued offensive pressure and success. As a team, the Bruins hit for .400 to the Cougars’ .247 and had a side-out percentage of 76.5.
Coach John Speraw attributed the success against UCLA’s conference rival to concentration on the serve and pass game.
“Our serve has such an impact on the way things go. When we get them into some passing difficulty and we have a good idea where the ball is going to go to help our block, then we can be pretty good,” Speraw said. “Tonight our serve was going. We had a little rut in the third set, but in general, we won the serve and pass game and we saw the end result.”
Defensively, UCLA managed to out-block the No. 1 blocking team in the country, finishing with 9.5 team blocks to BYU’s 6.5. In the previous matchup, the Cougars logged 10 blocks with a three-man block.
The Saturday match was a reversal, with the Cougars struggling to beat the Bruins’ block, and making 15 attacking errors. Sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah said the Bruins read their opposition and responded well to what was given to them.
“We caught on to their setter’s tendencies pretty early and we just believed in our system,” Gyimah said. “We got lucky a couple of times, but we played a great tactical game defense-wise.”
UCLA constantly threatened the BYU front three with play through the middle blockers. Already the most efficient player in the nation with an average hitting percentage of .530, Gyimah finished with 12 kills, hitting for .625.
BYU had hit for .318 as a team in the last meeting between the two sides. Pressure was put on the Cougars’ leading scorer, opposite Gabi Garcia Fernandez, as the Bruins effectively contained offensive threats around him, especially in the middle of the front three. Outside hitter Cyrus Fa’alogo was held to under his season average of .276, hitting -.250.
Away from the middles, the Bruins had a diverse group of scorers, with junior outside hitter Dylan Missry, senior opposite Christian Hessenauer and senior outside hitter Jake Arnitz combining for 22 kills, and all with kill percentages over .250.
“So that’s what we strive to do, give (junior setter Micah Ma’a) a good pass so he can either go to (Gyimah) in the middle or me or (Hessenauer) or even (Missry) on the bic, so we have options,” Arnitz said. “We just need to stay and system, and when we’re not, just go to the pins.”
Arnitz logged 12 kills and a hitting percentage of .500 by scoring in transition from the outside. Arnitz said this match was more important than any game he had ever played.
“In my career, we’ve never beaten BYU. I have two guys on that team that are my best friends, so it’s always been a game I’ve looked forward to, but we’ve never been able to get it,” Arnitz said. “We’ve been 0-8 until now. I wanted this more than any game I’ve had at UCLA.”
Now in the postseason, UCLA will participate in the MPSF conference tournament beginning Saturday. If the Bruins win the tournament, they will gain entry to the NCAA Tournment held in May.