The Bruins headed into Wednesday’s match after a 12-day break from competition – their longest amount of time without a game this season.
“It was a long two weeks off after we’d played two or three games a week, so it was just kind of odd to come back,” said junior setter Micah Ma’a. “I think it took us a little to get our feet under us and adjust to playing some other people.”
No. 3 UCLA men’s volleyball (20-5, 7-2 MPSF) swept No. 11 UCSB (9-8, 2-2 Big West) on Wednesday night – the Bruins’ fifth consecutive win of a five-game home stand. The match was initially scheduled for Jan. 12 but rescheduled because of mudslides along the 101 Freeway, which caused transportation issues for the Gauchos.
Despite outhitting UCSB .526 to .194 in the first set, UCLA was forced to call an early timeout and eventually took the set by a close margin of 25-22.
“They started out good against Long Beach as well, I think they’re a good first-set team,” said senior outside hitter Jake Arnitz. “I think that they just came out strong and we had a slow start, but we figured it out.”
Coach John Speraw said the early struggles were in large part due to the Bruins doing some different things on serve-receive, which allowed the Gauchos to rack up a few early aces.
UCLA began the second set with an elevated level of energy on and off the court and jumped to a 6-1 lead. Ma’a later extended the team’s lead to 21-12 with a seven-point serving run that included three aces. The Bruins had eight aces on the night, with half coming from Ma’a. UCLA took the set 25-15.
The Bruins never trailed in the third set and closed out the match 25-18.
UCLA dominated at the net, out-blocking UCSB 10.5 to 3. Sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah led the way with seven block assists.
Throughout all three sets, the Bruins maintained a high offensive efficiency, hitting for .446 on the night. Speraw said the time off allowed the team to practice more in-system plays to improve its offense.
“We were seeing that a bic could be a big part of our game,” Speraw said. “We recognized that we needed to put a little bit more speed in some spots and some different routes.”
The Bruins especially employed the bic, a fast back-row set, with Christian Hessenauer. The senior opposite led the team with 11 kills.
Speraw said the connection between Ma’a and UCLA’s hitters, along with Ma’a’s setting ability, has continued to improve throughout the season.
“We always have to remind ourselves that (Ma’a) is this incredible athlete, but he also is a guy that hasn’t set full time in a 5-1 in a long time, I don’t know if ever,” Speraw said. “He still is on this learning curve, and I think you can see that, so he’s been getting better and better so that connection’s there.”
The Bruins will next face the USC Trojans in their final road game of the regular season Saturday at 7 p.m.