Improvements in the Bruins’ passing game could be key in finding success as men’s volleyball faces one of the toughest stretches of games on their schedule.
No. 5 UCLA (6-2) beat unranked UC San Diego (3-5) in four sets Friday, and will now play six straight ranked teams – finishing the stretch with a rematch against No. 1 Long Beach State on the road.
Coach John Speraw said the Bruins need to improve serving and passing to make it easier for senior setter Micah Ma’a to operate.
“We’re going to have to continue to really stress serve and pass,” Speraw said. “We had a lot of balls where we could’ve passed them perfectly, but we put them at 6 or 8 feet (from the net). We put (Ma’a) under a lot of stress.”
Ma’a had 47 assists against UCSD and is currently fifth in the nation in assists per set at 10.58.
Ma’a said passing leads to quicker offensive tempo and better offense.
“With good defensive teams, if they see us pass 10 feet or beyond (the net), they can make a lot of plays and the game gets a lot slower,” Ma’a said. “If we can get the ball up there at the net, we can run with speed and get the ball on them fast. We can work the middles in. That’s always been a key to our game.”
Ma’a assisted redshirt junior opposite Brandon Rattray on all but one of Rattray’s season-high 21 kills against UC San Diego. Rattray said Ma’a’s setting helps him get more in tune with the flow of the game.
“(Ma’a’s) and my connection was just there tonight,” Rattray said Friday. “It was incredible. He was just setting the ball right where I needed it to be and I was putting it down. It was flowing.”
Rattray leads the Bruins in kills this season with 102, while the next closest is junior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah with 60.
Rattray said he has gotten better as his chemistry with Ma’a has developed.
“The chemistry is growing, and there is so much room for improvement,” Rattray said. “As the season goes and as we keep getting out there on the court, we’re going to continue to connect even better. I’m very excited to see by the end of the season where our connection is. I think it is going to be completely unstoppable.”
The Bruins have played against three ranked opponents so far this season and have dropped a total of two sets in games against unranked opponents. However, Speraw said the Bruins treat no opponent any different than the next.
“No matter what the records are, what people may perceive as discrepancies in size or talent, anybody can make some great volleyball plays, string them together and take a set,” Speraw said.
UCLA will begin its tour of ranked opponents against Loyola Chicago on Thursday at the Gentile Arena in Chicago.