The Bruins opened conference play with a win in their first five-set match of the year.
No. 4 UCLA (9-2, 1-0 MPSF) defeated No. 9 Stanford (7-4, 0-1) in its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matchup of the year Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion by a score of 3-2.
The Bruins were without senior outside hitter Dylan Missry, redshirt junior opposite Brandon Rattray and redshirt freshman setter Adam Parks, all scratched from the lineup due to injury.
The trio, which had accounted for 211 of the team’s 464 kills this season entering Thursday, was replaced by a combination of sophomore middle blocker Grant Maleski, redshirt freshman middle blocker J.R. Norris, redshirt sophomore outside hitter Sam Kobrine and redshirt junior middle blocker Matt Younggren.
Maleski, Norris, Kobrine and Younggren combined for 68 kills through the first 10 games of the season and tallied nearly half that total Thursday, with 25.
Junior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah added 25 kills of his own – the most by a Bruin in a single match this season.
Gyimah said the foursome was ready to fill in as a result of the team’s readiness to improvise.
“Huge, they’re just huge,” Gyimah said. “Everyone has to step up to the plate when some guys are out and (Maleski, Norris, Kobrine and Younggren) did it in a big way. They’re always grinding, training in the gym long hours, it’s nice to see them shine.”
Gyimah said he and senior setter Micah Ma’a changed the Bruins’ game plan after the Cardinal took the first set by a score of 25-21. The change in approach paid dividends for Gyimah, who had 22 kills over the next four sets.
“There were two points late in the first set that I was so open and (Ma’a) set the right side,” Gyimah said. “I told (Ma’a), ‘Let me be the reason why we lose.’ From then on, he just kept on setting me.”
UCLA and Stanford traded set wins through the first four sets, with the Cardinal taking the first and third sets and the Bruins winning the second and fourth.
The Bruins lost the first set after hitting for a single-set low of .000 and tallying 11 attacking errors.
UCLA coach John Speraw said Stanford’s height was difficult to counter in the earlier stages of the match.
“They’re big,” Speraw said. “(Opposite hitter) Jaylen Jasper is a big presence, I think. We can’t replicate that in the gym. So, sometimes when we get in these matches where the opponents present a problem that you can’t replicate in the gym, it takes a little while to adapt.”
Ma’a said Stanford’s height also posed an issue for UCLA’s offense.
“They’re just a pretty big block and they’re really disciplined,” Ma’a said. “They get over quick and they get over pretty big, so I think it was just an adjustment process.”
Stanford set a team season-high in team blocks with 17.0, the most tallied by a UCLA opponent since Long Beach State’s 11.5 earlier in the season.
Gyimah said the Bruins were not concerned with the score 23-21 in the fourth set, when the Cardinal were two points away from winning the match.
“Our philosophy is always just play point-for-point,” Gyimah said. “The second that the last ball dropped in the fourth set, everyone was like, ‘First point, first point of the next set.’ That’s all we were focused on.”
Gyimah would go on to tally four more kills as UCLA won the fifth and final set 15-10 to claim the match.
UCLA will face No. 7 BYU at home at the John Wooden Center on Saturday.