The last time UCLA men’s volleyball faced UC Irvine, the Anteaters ended the Bruins’ 2017 season in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation quarterfinals.
No. 3 UCLA (3-0) will host No. 5 UC Irvine (2-0) on Wednesday night. The Anteaters have won their first two matches of the 2018 season, sweeping No. 11 Lewis and topping No. 7 Loyola-Chicago in four sets.
Coach John Speraw won three national championships in his 10 years with UC Irvine before coming to Westwood.
“They’ve been a good team for a long time now, and that hasn’t changed,” Speraw said. “They have some really unique players in the league (who) are going to challenge us from a systematic point of view.”
The Anteaters’ opposite Karl Apfelbach led the team offensively on both nights, with a career-high 22 kills and 15 digs against Loyola-Chicago. VolleyMob.com voted him player of the week Tuesday.
Speraw said UC Irvine’s style of play differs from that of the Bruins.
“It’s going to be good for us to see, just a little variety,” Speraw said. “They’re doing some different things offensively, aggressively and effectively … so we’re going to have to make some adaptations. It’s always a challenge playing a system you don’t see much in your own gym.”
UC Irvine’s middle blocker Scott Stadick was voted the first recipient of the Big West Men’s Volleyball Defensive Player of the Week honor after averaging 1.57 blocks per set so far this season. Stadick also logged eight kills each in the two matches as well.
“They’re doing some innovative things with their offense,” said sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah. “They’re running wide sets.”
The Bruins have swept their first three games of the season. Speraw named blocking as the team’s biggest weakness right now.
“In the last couple years we’ve been pretty good at killing the ball, but our defensive block isn’t as good,” said junior outside hitter Dylan Missry. “So if we can slow a couple more balls down and dig more balls, I think we’ll have some better chances.”
Three of the seven true freshmen have made their debut on the court for UCLA so far, with middle blocker Ian Parish, libero Garland Peed V and outside hitter Colin Bailey all getting their first game minutes.
“I’m really pleased with this class, I think they’re a great group of volleyball players,” Speraw said. “We are returning quite a bit so it’ll be interesting to see how we put this team together. But I think for the long-term future, we’ll be in a very good place.”