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UCLA men’s volleyball team aims to conquer the road

By Vidur Malik

February 11, 2010, 9:33 pm

Road warriors.

The UCLA men’s volleyball team has been impressive on the road, but coach Al Scates is waiting until after this weekend to see whether the Bruins can be rewarded with that nickname for their efforts.

“It’s going to be another good road test for us,” Scates said of the matches at Stanford and Pacific this weekend. “We’re going to see if we deserve the name “˜road warriors’ after this trip or not.”

The No. 3 Bruins (6-5, 5-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) play the No. 5 Cardinal (5-3, 4-3) today in Palo Alto and will then travel to Stockton to play the unranked Tigers (6-7, 0-7) Saturday.

According to Scates, the Bruins need to play well in all facets of the game to take down Stanford.

“Stanford’s leading the league in hitting, and they have somebody leading the league in everything,” Scates said.

Cardinal senior setter Kawika Shoji leads the league in assists, sophomore middle blocker Gus Ellis leads in blocks, sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson leads in service aces, and sophomore libero Erik Shoji leads in digs. As a team, Stanford tops the league in team hitting, assists and kills.

Junior outside hitter Spencer McLachlin is also scheduled to return tonight. McLachlin averaged 3.33 kills per set in the four matches he started before suffering a shoulder injury against BYU on Jan. 23.

“That was a huge guy to lose, but he’s practicing this week, so they should be at full strength again,” Scates said.

Scates added that the key to tonight’s match is to serve tough and force bad passes. Senior outside hitter Garrett Muagututia added that the Bruins need to maintain the high hitting averages they hit against Hawai’i last weekend.

“Our serving and blocking has gotten better, so it’s enabled us to dig behind the block and score points,” Muagututia said. “I think our hitting will get there as long as our blocking and our defense is good.”

Muagututia has been a key contributor to his team’s improved scoring. In the two matches against Hawai’i, Muagututia recorded 46 kills and hit more than .400.

“Garrett played the best back-to-back he’s ever played,” Scates said. “He is really playing good. He blocked, he had five block assists and a block solo, so he’s playing an all-around game. He’s digging, he’s passing, he’s doing everything for us.”

Muagututia’s younger brother Myles is a freshman outside hitter for Stanford, and he is looking forward to seeing him, while still looking to win.

“Obviously I’m pretty excited to get to see him,” Muagututia said. “Hopefully he’ll get some playing time. But my focus is still winning. So with that, obviously I’m going to be glad to see him again.”

After playing Stanford, the Bruins will take on Pacific Saturday. The Tigers are struggling and sit at the bottom of the MPSF. ok Assistant Coach Brian Rofer ok says the team will focus on a few of Pacific’s key players.

“They run a pretty basic offense because I think they’re kind of rebuilding right now, but they have a couple players that, watching them on tape, they’re pretty good,” Rofer said. “They’ll be good, but I think there’s just the individuals on that team that you have to stop, whereas looking at their whole offense and their whole game isn’t as important as just stopping a couple players.”

For the Bruins, redshirt junior Dylan Bowermaster and redshirt sophomore Jeremy Casebeer will continue to split time at the second outside hitter spot.

Several players have shown improvement in certain parts of the game. Scates said redshirt sophomore opposite Jack Polales has improved his digging, along with junior libero Tom Hastings. He also highlighted sophomore quick hitter Nick Vogel’s strong play at the block.

Senior setter Kevin Ker said that the Bruins have been playing well in hostile territory, adding he enjoys silencing the home crowd. Ker hopes that the team can return to Stanford’s Maples Pavilion after this weekend for the NCAA Championships.

“Stanford’s a really good team, and that’s where the NCAA Championships are this year, so we want to prepare for that and hopefully get back there later this year,” Ker said.

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