Men’s volleyball reflects after once-promising season lost to injuries
UCLA men’s volleyball failed to advance to the NCAA tournament – one season removed from its trip to the 2018 NCAA championship final. The Bruins fell 3-1 to USC in the MPSF conference tournament semifinal. (Daanish Bhatti/Daily Bruin)
April 24, 2019 12:25 a.m.
After a season plagued by injuries, the Bruins did not have the chance to make a postseason run.
UCLA men’s volleyball’s record season was cut short after it did not win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference tournament or claim an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
UCLA coach John Speraw named injuries as the main cause of the Bruins’ short-lived season.
“With ankles, multiple backs, sickness and being forced to do everything we were forced to do,” Speraw said. “Sometimes it goes that way in sports, doesn’t usually go that way in volleyball, but unfortunately it did for us this year.”
Throughout the 2018-2019 season, the Bruins suffered injuries to four positions in the starting lineup, including a lower-leg injury to junior outside hitter Austin Matautia, who averaged 2.41 kills per set before being ruled out for the rest of the season March 9.
Senior outside hitter Dylan Missry – who posted 148 kills in his senior season – missed 11 matches due to a back injury and redshirt junior opposite Brandon Rattray – who led the Bruins with an average of 3.33 kills per set – sat out three matches with a toe injury.
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Sam Kobrine filled in for Missry and Matautia after averaging 0.19 kills per set last season. Kobrine recorded 130 kills and 13 aces before suffering an illness which caused him to miss five of the last six games of the season. Freshman libero Cole Pender also missed three of the Bruins’ last six games due to injury.
Junior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah and senior setter Micah Ma’a were the only members of the UCLA squad to play all 28 matches of the season.
Gyimah finished the season as the leading scorer for the Bruins with 311 kills, 25 service aces and .78 blocks per set. He was also the fifth-most efficient offensive player in the nation, finishing the season with a .435 hitting percentage.
Ma’a, who switched to the outside hitter position in the latter part of the season, recorded 147 kills and 851 assists. The senior ranked third in the nation with .64 aces per set and posted 67 service aces in his last season – which placed him as the all-time aces leader in program history.
Despite his short senior season, Ma’a said he was pleased with his teammates’ response to the adversities they faced throughout the season.
“We had to switch a lot of lineups,” Ma’a said. “As people have seen, everyone’s played everywhere and I’m proud of the guys for just filling in where they needed to be. Wherever coach (Speraw) put them they gave it their all and that’s all you can do.”
UCLA won eight of its first 10 games to begin the season and defeated all six of its conference opponents in the first half of conference play. The Bruins finished the season losing four of their remaining six conference matches and secured a No. 2 seed in the MPSF tournament.
UCLA finished the season among the top 10 in the nation offensively, ranking fifth with 1.73 aces per set, seventh with 12.18 assists per set, and sixth with .323 and 12.85 in hitting percentage and kills per set, respectively.
The Bruins were nearly perfect at home, ending the season with a 10-1 record. Their only loss was to the 2018 national champions, Long Beach State 49ers, on Jan. 19. However, UCLA faced obstacles on the road, ending the season with a 7-7 record away from home, with four losses obtained in the second half of conference play.
After an MPSF quarterfinal win against Concordia Irvine and a four-set semifinal loss to USC, UCLA ended the 2019 season with a 19-9 overall record.
Missry described his last season at UCLA as a chaotic one after the Bruins’ MPSF tournament semifinal loss to the Trojans on April 18.
“A mess, a hot mess,” Missry said. “I mean with injuries and all these things, we hung tough and gave it our best.”
However, with only two seniors leaving the Bruins’ starting lineup and its top three offensive players returning next season, UCLA men’s volleyball has the potential to grow and return to the NCAA tournament next season.