Weekend in Preview: Feb. 4
No. 8 UCLA men’s volleyball and coach John Speraw hit the road for the first time in the pandemic season, taking on No. 1 BYU in a doubleheader. (Elise Tsai/Daily Bruin)
Michael Waldman, Assistant Sports editor
After moving up one space in the rankings, the Bruins will take on the No. 1 team in the country in their first road doubleheader of the season.
No. 8 UCLA men’s volleyball (1-0) will travel to Provo, Utah, to play No. 1 BYU in the Cougars’ season opener Thursday at 6 p.m. before facing BYU again at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
UCLA defeated No. 10 Grand Canyon in straight sets Friday in another top-10 matchup, but lost 3-0 to the Cougars at Provo’s Smith Fieldhouse in the sides’ only meeting in 2020.
Despite the team’s first two opponents’ being ranked, UCLA coach John Speraw said facing high-quality opponents is nothing new for a team in a conference that contains five top-15 schools.
“Most nights we’re playing a top-10 team if you’re playing in our conference and in Southern California, so that’s nothing new,” Speraw said. “Playing BYU is a unique skill set, and you get better by doing it the more you do it. So I’m looking forward to getting out there and our first road trip as a team, and gain some experience about how to play in that gym where we’re ultimately going to play the playoffs.”
The Bruins left Pauley Pavilion with a 34.1% hitting percentage in their season-opener, which is higher than their average hitting percentage in the 2020 season.
Speraw said offseason COVID-19 precautions contributed to UCLA’s improved hitting Friday.
“During (the COVID-19 pandemic) in the fall, we had to do a lot of practices that had to be socially distanced practices,” Speraw said. “And that focused us a lot on serve and pass, and our passing is better as a result.”
Tung Lin, Daily Bruin contributor
The Bruins have their first ranked test of the season ahead of them.
No. 18 UCLA women’s volleyball (3-1) will travel to Pullman to face No. 24 Washington State (3-1) on Thursday and Saturday.
Both teams split matches against Oregon, with the Bruins coming off a loss against the Ducks on Sunday. Senior middle blocker Sabrina Smith said the team can learn a lot from its loss.
“We’re going to definitely need to reset after this past weekend at Oregon,” Smith said. “There are a bunch of things just from watching films that we can definitely be better at, and most of it comes from our side of the net.”
While Washington State averages 1.6 aces per set, UCLA has failed to surpass an average of one ace per set. On the other hand, the Bruins have a higher hitting percentage of .269 compared to the Cougars’ .189.
“Washington State has changed their identity as a team,” said coach Michael Sealy. “They’re fast-paced and have a more intricate offense than we’re used to.”
Sealy’s team had one day of practice at home before traveling for its back-to-back matches against the Cougars.
Until last week, Sealy said UCLA had been preparing for the matchups with Oregon. The team watched film analysis of Washington State to prepare for this weekend – the norm in match preparation. However, as a result of the pandemic, players watch individually without the in-person guides from coaches and other players.
“It’ll be a challenge getting the team prepared in a short week for a lot of stuff we normally don’t see,” Sealy said.
The Bruins will take on the Cougars at 6 p.m. on Thursday before a rematch at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
Men’s water polo
Kyle Boal, Assistant Sports editor
The Bruins play three opponents this weekend, but none of them are ranked lower than No. 2.
No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (3-2, 2-2 MPSF) will compete at the USC Round Robin with conference matchups against No. 2 California (2-2, 2-2) and No. 1 Stanford – making its 2021 debut – on Saturday before finishing the weekend with No. 2 USC (2-2, 2-2) on Sunday.
The Bruins competed twice against both the Golden Bears and Trojans the weekend of Jan. 23-24 to start the season. Each team split its two games against each of its opponents, resulting in all three coming out of the weekend 2-2, and the trio were all ranked No. 2 nationally the subsequent week.
Coach Adam Wright – who has over a 75% winning percentage in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play – said teams will have much different lineups this time around than last.
“The thing that’s different this year is, if I had to guess, every team – including ourselves – will have some different players out there based on who was available that weekend,” Wright said. “So (playing USC and Cal earlier in the season) was good from the standpoint of getting tendencies, but on any given team we might see four or five different players we didn’t the first weekend.”
The Cardinal won the most recent national championship in 2019 to cap off its 21-2 season. This time around, Stanford will be without two-time Peter J. Cutino Award winner Ben Hallock – who became only the fifth man to win the award multiple times after leading the Cardinal in scoring each of the last three seasons.
Coming off a 15-9 win against No. 5 Pepperdine in which UCLA never trailed, Wright said the team feels confident heading into the weekend.
“I really like the direction this group’s going – the energy, the commitment they have towards each other,” Wright said. “We feel good about the weekend as far as where we are now. We have a couple more days to prepare, but it’ll be nice to see where we’ve gone in two weeks’ time against the same teams and a new one in Stanford.”