The Bruins began their stretch of six matches against top-10 opponents with a win.
No. 5 UCLA (7-2) defeated No. 7 Loyola Chicago (6-3) by a score of 3-1 on Thursday night at Gentile Arena. The Bruins advanced to an 8-0 all-time record against the Ramblers.
“The win was really important,” said senior setter Micah Ma’a. “Getting out to a good start and not having to be coming from losing a game, that’s when the pressure starts happening. I’m glad we got this win.”
Junior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah said the matchup with the Ramblers brought out the best in him, as he posted a season-high 18 kills to lead the Bruins in the category for the first time this season.
“As we start playing harder teams, we’re just going to start setting the middle court more, especially when we’re passing well,” Gyimah said. “Earlier in the season, we were just using me as kind of a decoy, but in crunch time, it always goes to me.”
Gyimah also hit for .739, second only to his UCLA-record-setting performance of .917 against McKendree earlier this season. Gyimah led the country in hitting percentage last season, with a mark of .528.
The Ramblers began their night by taking a 6-0 lead in the first set.
“We weren’t executing the game plan like we should have,” Gyimah said. “They capitalized, and we made dumb errors.”
However, the Bruins answered with a run of their own. A pass from Ma’a set up Gyimah for the kill to make the score 14-19. Ma’a led the Bruins to six more points and their first lead of the night, tallying three assists and three aces in the process.
Gyimah said the Bruins were poised to make a run with Ma’a at the service line.
“In my opinion, I think (Ma’a) is by far the best server in the league,” Gyimah said. “So, if we know there’s going to be a guy that gets a run, it’s going to be him.”
Ma’a also added eight kills, twice as many as he has tallied in any other match this season.
“A lot of those kills were reactionary,” Ma’a said. “Most teams pay a lot of attention to the dump, but (Loyola Chicago) didn’t.”
The Ramblers began each of the first three sets with leads, but converted those advantages to a single 25-23 win in the second set.
UCLA altered its lineup following the second-set loss, replacing freshman libero Cole Pender with junior outside hitter Austin Matautia.
Coach John Speraw said moving Matautia to libero for the first time this season was part of a strategy to boost the defense at that position.
“(Pender) didn’t have his best first couple of sets there, and I was just trying to figure out what our best seven guys are,” Speraw said. “(Matautia) can play really good defense from left back. Him moving to libero gives us a better defensive presence than we have right now.”
Speraw said changing the Bruins’ approach at the service line to target the Ramblers’ outside hitter Will Tischler also helped the team secure a win.
“(Tischler) didn’t have his typical match tonight,” Speraw said. “So, later in the match, we definitely made some adjustments and went at him a little more than the original game plan said to.”
The Bruins finished the night with seven service aces, six of which were served to Tischler. Tischler finished the night with the Ramblers’ second-highest total in kills, with 10, but also committed a match-high 11 errors.
The Bruins will travel to Romeoville, Illinois, to take on No. 10 Lewis on Saturday.