Saturday, January 25

Men’s volleyball prepares to play top-ranked Long Beach State

Sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah is first in the nation in hitting percentage. No. 2 UCLA will face No. 1 Long Beach State on Saturday. (Bilal Ahmed/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Daenan Gyimah has the most efficient hitting percentage in the nation at .503. But right now, he’s focused on another No. 1.

“We’re going to have to know them better than they know themselves in order to beat them,” said the sophomore middle blocker. “It’s going to be the most mentally challenging game of the season.”

Coming off its victory against USC on Wednesday, No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (14-1, 3-0 MPSF) will visit No. 1 Long Beach State (12-0) at the Walter Pyramid on Saturday. Last season, the then-No. 2 49ers swept the No. 5 Bruins.

UCLA will face a Long Beach State team that has ranked highly in national statistics both offensively and defensively. The 49ers have hit for .429, the best in the nation, whilst holding their opponents to a .147 hitting percentage.

“Well, they are clean. Their conversion percentage is higher than ours right now,” said coach John Speraw. “I think we are going to have to figure out a way and be really thoughtful and intentional about how we improve that aspect of our game.”

UCLA has faced Long Beach State 18 times since 2010, winning nine of those matches, including a sweep in the 2016 MPSF semifinal. The 49ers have never won an NCAA championship, despite making it to the final four in 2016 and 2017.

The 49ers have a high-scoring duo in outside hitters Kyle Ensing and TJ DeFalco. Both have logged over 100 kills this season, hitting for .424 and .395, respectively. Ensing has led the team defensively as well, with 36 total blocks and 0.97 blocks per set.

DeFalco was the 2017 AVCA Player of the Year. He is one of the leaders of a strong serving unit, serving for .783, a member of the 12 players on the roster serving over .700. The 49ers have hit 67 aces this season, doubling the aces of their opponents.

“(DeFalco’s) especially good so we’re going to have to be really good on him,” said senior opposite Christian Hessenauer. “Obviously he’s going to get some gnarly kills, but we just need to bounce back and continue the next point. As long as we could kind of get in (DeFalco’s) head then we should be OK.”

UCLA has won seven in a row since its lone loss of the season after falling to No. 3 Hawai’i (8-1). The Bruins have emerged as a defensive force, with 125 blocks to their opponents’ 72.

“It’s unexpected, but I’m obviously very pleased,” Speraw said. “We’ve out-blocked about everybody we’ve played this year. But when we can match our defense behind the block, then we can be pretty potent.”

The Bruins have averaged 13.6 kills per set this season, with Hessenauer leading with 176 kills and junior outside hitter Dylan Missry following him with 127.

“We are going to be challenged there,” Speraw said. “But playing a team like Long Beach could help us understand how we need to get better as a team.”

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Sports senior staff

McCarthy is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was an assistant Sports editor in 2018-2019 for the men's tennis, women's soccer, track and field and men's volleyball beats. McCarthy was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and men's water polo beats. He is a third-year English and history student from Atlanta, Georgia. McCarthy is an avid Tottenham Hotspur and Conor McGregor fan.

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