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UCLA men’s volleyball works on improvements as last season’s stars face setbacks

Sophomore libero/outside hitter Cole Pender has 49 digs for UCLA men’s volleyball, second on the team. Pender also had the second-most digs last year and had the most among returners. (Daanish Bhatti/Daily Bruin)

By Samuel In

Feb. 25, 2020 1:10 a.m.

The Bruins’ top three kill scorers from last season have not replicated their success this season.

No. 12 UCLA men’s volleyball (7-7, 2-3 MPSF) has seen injuries limit senior middle blocker Daenan Gyimah and redshirt senior opposite Brandon Rattray to a combined 13 matches this season. Gyimah has missed five matches and Rattray has missed 10.

Gyimah is the most experienced returning Bruin from last season, having played in 104 sets in 2019, second only to then-senior setter Micah Ma’a. Rattray played in the fifth most sets with 79.

Gyimah led the team in kills last season with 311 and is currently second on the team this season with 92, but his kills per set have dropped from 2.99 to 2.88.

He is also tied for the most service errors on the team this season with 40, despite his five missed matches. His service errors per set have increased from 1.12 to 1.25.

Rattray has only played in nine sets this season and, despite being cleared for the past three matches, he has yet to start or play in a full match. Assistant coach John Hawks said Rattray needs to perform when he gets opportunities.

“(Rattray’s) going to get shots,” Hawks said. “When he gets a shot, he needs to be great – that’s what we expect of him.”

Rattray was second to Gyimah in kills last season with 263, but led the Bruins in kills per set with 3.33.

Senior outside hitter Austin Matautia was third in kills for UCLA last season with 164, despite having his season cut short midway through March because of an injury.

Matautia’s kills per set has dropped from 2.41 last season to 1.76 this season, and he is currently hitting for .255 compared to .295 last season.

After graduating All-MPSF setter Ma’a, Hawks said Matautia is working on building chemistry with a new setter: freshman Mads Kyed Jensen.

“He’s constantly working at connecting with our setter,” Hawks said.

Kyed Jensen said addressing the intangible problems is only part of the solution, and that there’s a lot more to the equation.

“Everyone has some technical stuff they’re working on,” Kyed Jensen said. “We’re working on some mental stuff, some connections, energy level. There’s a lot of things that we’re constantly trying to improve.”

Kyed Jensen already has nine setting errors this season, six more than Ma’a had all of last year. Kyed Jensen had a setting error to go along with four service errors in his last match against Grand Canyon on Friday.

The only top-five player in sets played last season still in the top five this season is sophomore libero/outside hitter Cole Pender. His stats have taken a dip as well, averaging 1.23 digs per set after averaging 1.30 in 2019.

Pender only had four digs in four sets against Grand Canyon to go along with a reception error. He said the Antelopes put service pressure on the Bruins, and UCLA could have responded better.

“They served us tough, but everyone could’ve done a little better job in every aspect of the game,” Pender said.

UCLA’s next match is slated for Friday at 7 p.m. against CSUN at the Matadome.

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Samuel In | Assistant Video producer
In is an Assistant Video producer. He was previously a contributor on the men's volleyball and women's soccer beats and a video contributor on the Sports beat. He is a third-year communications major.
In is an Assistant Video producer. He was previously a contributor on the men's volleyball and women's soccer beats and a video contributor on the Sports beat. He is a third-year communications major.
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