The Bruins will face two teams this week, one they have defeated for the past three years, and one that, like them, is also in the nation’s top five.
No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (8-1, 0-0 MPSF) will host unranked Princeton (1-4, 0-0 Eastern Intercollegiate) on Thursday and will travel to No. 4 UC Irvine (9-1, 0-0 Big West) on Saturday in its final two bouts of nonconference play.
The Bruins will have a chance to continue their winning streak against the Princeton Tigers after besting them in three consecutive seasons.
UCLA will also face UC Irive in an attempt to defend the five-set victory it earned earlier this season.
UCLA enters Thursday’s match fresh off its victory against No. 2 Hawai’i, which happened during its second round of play against the Rainbow Warriors on Sunday.
UCLA has only dropped one match this season, falling to Hawai’i on Friday.
“Execution on our defense systems is going to be super important,” said coach John Speraw. “I think our serving, while it improved a little on night two (against Hawai’i), we’re going to have to get some more left-side attacks.”
The Tigers, on the other hand, have only managed a single win, which came against the Stanford Cardinal.
Redshirt senior middle blocker Oliver Martin said the Bruins plan to head into their match against the Tigers with a consistent mindset.
“The win against Ohio State (3-2), this last win against Hawai’i (3-1), we just played together,” Martin said. “For Princeton, we have to treat them like any other team by playing competitively, respecting them and trying to get that win.”
Martin says the Bruins have much stronger chemistry than they have had in past years, and also plenty of added depth.
“We have a lot of strengths, we have good depth on the bench,” Martin said. “I think anyone can come in and perform well for us.”
UCLA also plans to utilize the team’s strong chemistry in its second match against UC Irvine this season.
The Anteaters’ only loss of the season came at the hands of the Bruins. UC Irvine can also credit much of its success to outside hitter Aaron Koubi.
“They are much better with Koubi on the court,” Speraw said. “He was only on the court part of the time against us in the first match.”
Speraw says UC Irvine runs a clean offensive system because of key players such as Koubi and opposite Karl Apfelbach. Koubi has totaled 77 kills this season, and has averaged a hitting percentage of .374.
“Koubi is one of the best outside hitters in the country, and Apfelbach is much improved so I think that’s a good volleyball team,” Speraw said.
The Bruins have senior opposite Christian Hessenauer, who has notched 99 kills this season and has an average hitting percentage of .298. Hessenauer has managed 124 points for the Bruins thus far, and will be a key part of UCLA’s offense across the two upcoming games.
“We just have to stick to the game plans and stay as a team,” Martin said.