Over half of the Bruins’ starters are leaving this summer, but they will be replaced by a group of some of the nation’s top prospects.
Coach John Speraw announced the signing of six recruits in November. The 2019 season squad will be adding outside hitter Ian Eschenberg, setter Cole Johnson, outside hitter/opposite Sam Burgi, libero/outside hitter Cole Pender, middle blocker Daniel Matheney and opposite Kevin Kobrine.
Four out of seven 2017-2018 season starters will be graduating and leaving the team this year: opposite Christian Hessenauer, outside hitter Jake Arnitz, middle blocker Oliver Martin and outside hitter/libero JT Hatch.
Hessenauer led the team in scoring this season with 395 kills while logging a .307 hitting percentage. Arnitz hit at least .300 in 17 matches, with double-digit kills in 14. Hatch hit for .331 and finished fourth on the all-time school list for digs, with 634. Martin started all but one game of the 2018 season and had at least six kills in 12 matches.
Eschenberg could potentially challenge for the open spot of outside hitter. Over the course of his high school career, he earned All-Marmonte League honors for three seasons. He was named league MVP and first-team All-Ventura County in his senior season in 2016. In 2014, he was part of the Ventura County Volleyball Club team that took second at the USA Volleyball Boys’ Junior National Championships. Eschenberg has been serving on a church mission in Brazil since late 2016.
Newbury Park High School volleyball coach Jorge Ostrovsky said Eschenberg will make up for time away from the sport upon arrival at UCLA.
“At (6 feet 7 inches), he’s not only an excellent hitter but also a great passer and server,” Ostrovsky said. “He has a unbelievable work ethic and will quickly make up for that lost time. I can see (Eschenberg) contributing right away at the (outside hitter) position.”
Kevin Kobrine is the brother of current UCLA redshirt freshman opposite/setter Sam Kobrine. He was selected for VolleyballMag.com’s “Boys’ 30 Underclassmen to Watch” list and was a member of the 2017 USA Boys Youth National Training Team. Kevin Kobrine will be the fifth opposite listed on the squad next season, as players will challenge for the starting position left by Hessenauer.
Matheney will likely split time with a number of the squad’s middle blockers next season, including 2018 season standout sophomore Daenan Gyimah. Matheney was named first-team All-CIF Division 3 last season and his Rockstar Volleyball Club team took third at the BJNC.
His high school coach Kevin Norman said the Bruins should expect Matheney to work well with a high volume of plays sent through him.
“Daniel (Matheney) is a fierce competitor,” Norman said. “Playing at the next level will not only help him attain his potential, it will speed up the process. Matheney was our go-to guy even with teams keying on him.”
Johnson was named to the VolleyballMag.com “Boys’ 30 Underclassmen to Watch” list after being awarded All-County, All-District and All-State honors last season for his Central York High School in York, Pennsylvania.
Pender helped lead Newport Harbor High School into the CIF Div. 1 So Cal Regional semifinals and was selected to Div. 1 All-CIF and the All-Orange County team. He was co-MVP of the Sunset League. His coach Rocky Ciarelli said he has a very high volleyball IQ in his ability to control games and compared him to Hatch in his ability to play both outside hitter and libero.
Burgi was also named to the VolleyballMag.com “Boys’ 30 Underclassmen to Watch” list and was selected to the 2017 USA Boys’ Youth National Training Team. A member of the 949 Volleyball Club, he earned a gold medal when playing 16s and 17s.
The Bruins were one set from clinching the NCAA championship in 2018. Now with a new squad, UCLA will be tested to see if it can advance that far again.