The 2019 season is set to feature new faces on the volleyball court.
No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball has entered the new season, not necessarily in a rebuilding year phase after the success of last season, but instead has to balance new players with the leftovers from last year’s team.
Only time will tell to see how far players develop and what lineup decisions coach John Speraw makes along the way.
Three of the starting six and a number of bench players advanced to the NCAA championship final with the Bruins last season, losing in a five-set thriller to Long Beach State. Those three starters are junior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah, senior setter Micah Ma’a and senior outside hitter Dylan Missry.
Ma’a is pivotal to the Bruins’ success this season as he orchestrates plays and helps new players fit into the offense. Last season he finished fourth in the nation in assists with 10.55 per set en route to earning first-team AVCA and VolleyMob honors.
Gyimah led the nation with a .528 hitting percentage and was awarded the Ryan Millar Award for the nation’s best middle attacker. Don’t expect the productivity of those two to change, as they remain two of the best in the nation in their respective positions.
Those experienced members provided stability while new changes were made, for instance, sophomore libero Garland Peed split time with freshman libero/outside hitter Cole Pender in the match against UC San Diego.
Two new players who featured in the first two games of the season were not freshmen. Junior outside hitter Austin Matautia and redshirt junior opposite Brandon Rattray both transferred from Hawai’i this season and have found early success fitting into the UCLA starters. The duo posting a combined 37 kills against unranked Princeton and UC San Diego last week.
Of course, there will be adjustment pains as the duo fits into a completely new system and team, but the transfers bring experience. Rattray appeared in 12 matches last season and averaged two kills while Matautia appeared in 25 matches and hit for .349. These new starters have experience against the best in the nation, including a 3-2 defeat of then-undefeated Long Beach State on April 14, 2018.
One question will be who fills the hole left by opposite Christian Hessenauer in the starting six. Hessenauer undertook a large scoring volume last season and finished with 395 kills off a .307 hitting percentage. Missry had ample playing time as a junior, splitting time with outside hitter Jake Arnitz for periods of last season, and has 23 kills in two games so far this season. Missry could be set to fill in that scoring role.
The Bruins came close to winning their 20th title last season and will face a similarly challenging route to return to the championship match again.
However, the team will offer the leftovers from last year a chance to gel with new players through recruiting and program pedigree. That’s exciting.