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Men’s volleyball adjusts to no set lineup in season’s 1st matches

Redshirt freshman opposite Kyle Vom Steeg recorded nine kills in Thursday’s victory over BYU in what was the second game of his collegiate career. (Ellie Tsai/Daily Bruin)

By David Deng

Feb. 10, 2021 2:07 p.m.

Nearly two weeks into the season, the Bruins’ lineup still remains in flux.

Pieces from last year’s team have yet to make an appearance this season for No. 6 UCLA men’s volleyball, like sophomore outside hitter Alex Knight – a starter in 14 of the 19 matches played last season. Other players, such as redshirt junior setter Adam Parks, are playing out of position. Parks has been making his appearances at middle blocker this year.

A different player has led UCLA in kills in each of its three games this season. In the opener against Grand Canyon, sophomore outside hitter/opposite Cole Ketrzynski had a team-leading 13 kills. As a true freshman last year, Ketrzynski averaged three kills per set, the most on the team.

However, with Ketrzynski unavailable for UCLA’s two-game road trip against top-ranked BYU, the Bruins relied heavily on other players for their offense, including a couple of freshmen.

Freshman outside hitter Ethan Champlin paced the team with 33 attacks and 11 kills in the first match, a 3-1 upset victory, while redshirt freshman opposite Kyle Vom Steeg had nine kills on 22 attacks.

In the second game of the doubleheader, redshirt senior outside hitter Austin Matautia recorded nine kills in a losing effort, while Champlin and Vom Steeg were second and third on the team with seven and five kills, respectively. Champlin was also awarded MPSF/Molten Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against BYU, in which he led the team with a combined 15 digs in two matches, along with five blocks.

Despite the lineup changes, redshirt junior libero/outside hitter Cole Pender said he was proud of how the team has handled the adversity.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty this year, (and) people are going to have to step up,” Pender said. “I think the people that played this weekend stepped up. We loved what (Vom Steeg) did. We loved what (Parks) did in the middle. Everyone played super well, and it’s a great weekend we can build off of.”

Coach John Speraw echoed Pender’s sentiments about dealing with crucial absences.

“There’s just going to be some times (when) we don’t have everybody, and everybody on the roster at some point this season is going to need to contribute to wins,” Speraw said. “We’ve known that for a while, and we are emphasizing that as we’ve prepared for the season. Right here in the second week, we’ve needed the contribution of different players, and when we’ve needed them, they were there.”

Even with the lineup turnover, the Bruins have risen to No. 6 in national rankings, three spots above their preseason ranking.

And heading into UCLA’s matchup against crosstown rival USC, Speraw said he has a good feeling about the team as the season progresses.

“Right now, for us, it’s about getting everybody healthy and out of (COVID-19) protocols and together again, training and improving on our game,” Speraw said. “We have the capacity of a really good passing team, and we’re better defensively than we’ve been in years. (We) obviously like our competitiveness and the energy that we’re bringing into the court, and I’m excited to get in and continue to improve with this group.”

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David Deng | Sports staff
Deng is currently a Sports staffer on the men's volleyball beat. He was previously a reporter on the gymnastics and women's volleyball beat and a contributor on the cross country and track & field beats.
Deng is currently a Sports staffer on the men's volleyball beat. He was previously a reporter on the gymnastics and women's volleyball beat and a contributor on the cross country and track & field beats.
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