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Men’s volleyball toughens up for what could be a protracted road struggle against the Gauchos

By Farzad Mashhood

February 16, 2010 9:00 pm

Monday may have been a federal holiday, but the UCLA men’s volleyball team was hard at work in the Student Activities Center gym.

In fact, the day off for most people was a rough day of practice for the No. 6 Bruins (7-6, 6-4 MPSF), as they prepare to visit No. 8 UCSB (6-7, 6-4) tonight for their second meeting of the season.

During blocking drills, two players, Jonathan Bridgeman and Kyle Caldwell, were knocked in the head and ran off the court with bloody noses while another, Garrett Muagututia, got hit between the eyes and was a bit woozy.

All three quickly returned to practice and will be fine for tonight, but it is that kind of toughness that the Bruins will look to draw on as they face a powerful UCSB squad.

UCLA coach Al Scates’ biggest worries: Gauchos Jeff Menzel, MPSF player of the week, and Scott Slaughter, a starting middle blocker who missed their last meeting on Jan. 20.

“It seems like every time you pick up a box score you see Menzel has between 60 and 70 attacks,” Scates said. “With that many attacks, he’s hitting above .300. … That guy is a horse.”

With 5.6 kills per set, Menzel leads the conference. The closest Bruin is the senior captain, Muagututia, with 4.3. Slaughter, a junior middle blocker for the Gauchos, is 10th in the MPSF with a .442 clip.

Santa Barbara has gone five sets in their last four matches and in nine of their 13 matches this season.

“Santa Barbara is a really good team, they’re really scrappy,” senior setter Kevin Ker said. “They’ve played a lot of games to five and they know they can go long so we’ve got to go in and fire away.”

And for the Bruins, a win against this powerful team is critical in separating themselves from the pack, especially with a match against No. 1 Cal State Northridge looming Friday night.

“We could sweep Santa Barbara if we beat them this time around, which would be huge, especially in the standings,” redshirt junior Dylan Bowermaster said. “There are a bunch of teams that are 5-3 right now. We’re 6-4, right behind that pack, so we can pick up some momentum going into that Northridge match.”

And tied with Santa Barbara at sixth place in the conference, the Bruins are sitting just a match outside a three-way tie for third place and are just two matches behind first-place CSUN. The defending NCAA champions, UC Irvine, sit outside the playoff picture at 10th place in the conference, which, for Scates, shows the parity of the conference.

But with the midway point of the season coming after tonight’s match, the Bruins are looking to push through the second half of the season.

“We need to get the momentum going and pick up our play like we were playing a couple weeks ago when we took two off Hawai’i,” Bowermaster said.

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Farzad Mashhood
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