The Bruins will take a break from conference play to participate in the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten Challenge.
No. 5 UCLA men’s volleyball (14-4, 6-0 MPSF) will face Ohio State (6-12, 2-6 MIVA) on Friday, followed by Penn State (8-8, 5-2 EIVA) on Saturday at USC’s Galen Center.
The Bruins have faced the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions in consecutive matches for the past three years, with UCLA posting a 5-1 record in those games.
“These are good volleyball teams, historical national powerhouses,” coach John Speraw said. “We know that the matches are not conference ones, but we also know the implications that they’re going to have at the end of the year, so these matches are critical for us.”
In order to make the NCAA tournament in May, the Bruins would need to be awarded one of the two at-large bids by the selection committee if they do not finish atop the MPSF. The committee considers factors such as a teams’ overall win-loss record and nonconference performance when analyzing candidates for the two bids.
The Bruins have a chance to strengthen their resume when they face the Buckeyes, who are the 2016 and 2017 NCAA men’s volleyball champions.
Ohio State’s 338 service errors are the second-most in the country, behind only UCLA. However, the Bruins’ 1.80 aces per set is the fourth-highest mark in the country, compared to the Buckeyes’ 1.31, ranked 24.
Speraw said the Buckeyes’ service error count can hide the serving successes of opposite Jake Hanes. Despite being seventh on the team in sets played, Hanes’ 14 service aces is currently tied for most on the team.
“The key thing is how are we going to pass (Hanes’) serve, and what kind of cushion do we need when he goes to the line,” Speraw said. “That’s a super important part of this match. He’s a really, really good server when he gets going, so we’ll have to make sure we don’t let him go on too many long runs.”
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter/setter Sam Kobrine said UCLA’s first step to capitalizing on Ohio State’s blocking errors will be optimizing passing.
“We’ll have to pass really well,” Kobrine said. “Focusing on passing opens up our offense and makes it easier for all the hitters, making the blockers have four people to worry about.”
UCLA will return to the Galen Center on Saturday to face Penn State.
Penn State is 20th in the country in service aces per set, but redshirt junior opposite Brandon Rattray said the Bruins plan to go all out on their serves in practice to simulate the Nittany Lions’ specialty.
“When we continue to hammer our jump serves in practice, that’s how our passers get better,” Rattray said. “You’re killing two birds with one stone there. We get to work on our serving – because that’s something we need to do – and then we’ll have passers on the other side of the net working on their passing.”
UCLA will begin its match against Ohio State at 5 p.m. on Friday and Penn State at 5 p.m. on Saturday.