UCLA men’s volleyball was able to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament despite a loss to No. 2-seeded BYU in the MPSF Tournament when its serving didn’t make enough of an impact.
The No. 3-seeded Bruins (24-7, 9-3 MPSF) have relied on strong service pressure in their offense this season. Serving has been integral to wins and has often been a cause of losses when serves didn’t challenge the opposition.
The Bruins finished fifth in the nation in aces per set, averaging 1.72, despite logging 580 service errors over the course of the season.
Although errors are common within high-velocity serving, junior setter Micah Ma’a said after the Grand Canyon match in March that service impacts the offensive hitting.
“I think we dipped a little bit in serve receive,” Ma’a said. “It’s such an important skill because then our setting gets worse and our hitting gets worse because it’s just like a chain reaction.”
Ma’a ranks 10th in the nation in aces, averaging 0.482 aces per set. Sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah is the next highest Bruin in the list with 0.369, good for 33rd in the country.
UCLA ranks third in the nation in kills per set, averaging 13.02, and second in the nation in team hitting percentage, hitting for 0.350. The ability to kill the ball and stop opponents siding out is dictated by strong service – which forces the opposition out of system.
In the set UCLA took against BYU in the MPSF championship final, the Bruins had two aces and five service errors. But their service held the Cougars to a 50 percent side out percentage and a -.048 team hitting percentage.
However, in the matches where serving is weak, UCLA has struggled. The Bruins have especially struggled against BYU this season in Provo, Utah. In the March loss, the Bruins recorded one ace and 12 service errors, finishing the match hitting for .214 to the Cougars’ .318.
Coach John Speraw described the struggles against BYU as the Bruins losing the serve-pass battle and continuing to be pushed out of system, and weak serving brought the team more trouble.
In the MPSF championship final, UCLA failed to maintain possession, with 24 service errors leading to the team hitting for a combined .204. After the match, senior opposite Christian Hessenauer said the Bruins found it harder to serve and they failed to match their opposition’s service pressure.
“Yeah, they had constant service pressure on us,” Hessenauer said. “I guess the elevation makes it a little tougher to serve but they’re used to it and were putting the ball in the court, and if they weren’t, it was a few shots. Maybe in Pauley (Pavilion) we’ll get them, but we have to keep moving on.”
The Bruins could potentially face the Cougars in the semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament. UCLA begins NCAA Tournament play in the quarterfinal against Harvard (13-13, 10-4 EIVA) on Tuesday, May 1 at Pauley Pavilion.