UCLA men’s volleyball’s 2017 season was cut short with a loss to UC Irvine in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation quarterfinals.
But this season, the Bruins advanced.
No. 2 seed UCLA swept No. 7 seed Stanford at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday to secure a spot in the MPSF semifinals, which will take place next week in Provo, Utah.
The Bruins had faced the Cardinal just nine days prior to Saturday’s postseason matchup, winning that match in four.
“For us tonight I think it was beneficial to know tendencies a little bit better, and I think you can see that in our blocking numbers,” said coach John Speraw. “I think we did a pretty good job of getting on the right spots on the right guys.”
Blocking was a strong suit for the Bruins, who recorded 14 blocks on the night, which was good for their second-best mark of the season.
“Usually a block is a pretty bad swing on them, and I thought we just got in their head a bit, kind of rattled them,” said senior opposite Christian Hessenauer. “We knew their tendencies, so I thought we did a good job of taking that away.”
UCLA held Stanford to a team hitting percentage of .057, including keeping outside hitter Jordan Ewert and opposite Jaylen Jasper – two of the Cardinal’s leading scorers – to -.043 and .000, respectively.
“Their key players have been kind of injured throughout the season, so they haven’t really had the good connections,” Hessenauer said. “We believed that they would come out a lot stronger than they actually did, but we didn’t hold back and we just kept firing and I thought we played pretty well.”
The match began with a clean kill by Hessenauer, and the first set continued similarly. The Bruins never trailed and hit for .524 – their best clip of the night – and took the set 25-19.
UCLA won five straight points in the second set off blocks, giving the Bruins a 21-12 lead. They won the set 25-15 but only hit for .278.
“Early on, I think our offense was really sharp, but I think our blocking defense really wasn’t,” Speraw said. “We did block well over the course of the match, but I think our hitting percentage later in matches was probably not where we’re used to being.”
UCLA maintained its consistency through the third set, never trailing en route to a 25-18 victory.
Hessenauer led the team with eight kills and was followed by junior outside hitter Dylan Missry and sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah with seven and six, respectively.
The Bruins will continue their postseason run in the MPSF semifinals Thursday against No. 4 seed Concordia.
“For confidence it’s good to get the first playoff match out of the way,” Missry said. “But we’re going to go up to Provo, it’s going to be gnarly up there, so we’ll see what we can do.”