The Bruins are coming home to begin conference play.
No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball (8-2) will host No. 9 Stanford (7-3) and No. 7 BYU (4-3, 0-1 MPSF) at home Thursday and Saturday, respectively. These will be the first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matches of the season for the Bruins.
UCLA returns home from its Midwest road trip with two wins – each lasting four sets – against No. 8 Loyola Chicago (7-3) and No. 10 Lewis (7-4). The Bruins had three players record double-digit kills in each match, and averaged 9.5 blocks and a .372 hitting percentage over both matches.
Junior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah said UCLA hopes to avoid slow starts in their upcoming matches, after trailing by as many as six and seven points in the opening sets against Loyola Chicago and Lewis, respectively.
“We always get off to slow starts,” Gyimah said. “We’re just not dialed in on the game plan early enough, and other teams just always come out swinging first and we’re on our heels.”
The Bruins defeated the Cardinal in all three of their matchups last season, holding them below a .300 hitting percentage each match. Stanford lost its past two matches in straight sets, both against No. 2 Hawai’i (5-0). Stanford opposite Jaylen Jasper has led the Cardinal this season with 133 kills and 10 service aces.
UCLA earned split results from its four matches against BYU last season, averaging a .289 hitting percentage overall. This will be a rematch of the 2018 NCAA semifinal game, where the Bruins recorded 12 blocks, seven aces and hit for .336 compared to the Cougars’ 7.5 blocks, zero aces and .320 hitting percentage.
BYU has lost its last three games, two against No. 6 UC Santa Barbara (9-3) and one against Pepperdine (7-2, 1-0 MPSF), after winning its first four matches. The BYU Cougars are led by opposite Gabi Garcia Fernandez – who recorded 19 kills in the semifinal game against UCLA – and has a team-high 100 kills on the season.
Coach John Speraw said the Bruins plan to be more aggressive on the offensive end to put more pressure on their opponents.
“At the end of the day, we’d like to get them in some passing trouble and serve tough, which is a big strength of this team, and if that puts them in difficult positions, that’ll help us,” Speraw said.
UCLA posted a 9-3 conference record last season, with its three losses to Pepperdine, BYU and USC. Senior setter Micah Ma’a said the Bruins will focus on each game individually at the start of conference play.
“Take each game at a time,” Ma’a said. “Try to be the best team we can be night in and night out and so we can get wins earlier in the season because these wins definitely matter.”
Speraw said UCLA will not approach conference games differently and hopes the team will improve with every match.
“I don’t know that there’s too much of a difference. Just another team that we’re going to have to learn and understand,” Speraw said. “These are all good teams and we still have to get better so it’s a good opportunity for us to do that.”