Injuries have allowed the Bruins’ young bench to gain experience.
No. 5 UCLA men’s volleyball (14-4, 6-0 MPSF) defeated all its conference opponents in the first half of conference play to remain atop the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings. The Bruins played three matches without redshirt junior opposite Brandon Rattray and eight games without senior outside hitter Dylan Missry.
Missry and Rattray recorded a combined 183 kills, 18 aces and 22 blocks through the first nine games of the season. Due to its injuries, the team has had a chance to use its young bench for substitutions into the starting lineup.
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Sam Kobrine has been placed into the Bruins’ starting lineup in the last nine games. Kobrine has averaged 8.8 kills, 1.6 blocks and a .231 hitting percentage throughout.
Coach John Speraw said UCLA needs to continue to develop the individual skills of its young players, such as Kobrine, in order to see improvement.
“There’s the individual learning phases that some of these guys are in. (Kobrine’s) a good example,” Speraw said. “He’s getting out there and starting significant minutes for the first time in his career, so his shot selection needs to improve. When does he attack? When does he tip and why? Continuing to evaluate those things and learn, I think over the course of time he’ll continue to improve.”
Sophomore middle blocker Grant Maleski has also been placed into the Bruins’ rotations to contribute both an offensive and defensive presence in Missry’s absence. Maleski has recorded a total of 33 kills, 23 blocks and seven aces over the last eight games.
“They’re always grinding, training in the gym for long hours,” said junior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah. “So it’s nice to see them shine.”
Freshman libero Cole Pender has played in 17 of UCLA’s 18 matches and has recorded 85 digs on the season. Speraw said Pender will continue to improve as the season progresses.
“We have to continue to get Pender more and more experience,” Speraw said. “He’s a true freshman out there at libero – that’s very difficult, especially against a great serving team.”
Senior setter Micah Ma’a said more game exposure and involvement are the keys to not only developing the team’s younger players, but also improving team chemistry and rhythm.
“Just experience,” Ma’a said. “Being on the court with the same people and figuring out how people like to operate both physically and mentally.”
With Rattray back in their lineup, the Bruins have six remaining conference matches this season, four of which will be on the road.
“It’s a gradual progression,” Speraw said. “I think guys are getting better and I feel like we’ve handled some of the fundamentals that we needed to handle and now it’s just about trying to increase the amount of reps and skill with experience.”
The Bruins will face unranked Ohio State (6-12, 2-6 MIVA) and Penn State (8-8, 5-2 EIVA) in the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten Challenge on Friday and Saturday, respectively, at USC’s Galen Center.