UCLA men’s volleyball readies for rematches against UCSB, UCSD
Freshman setter Andrew Rowan sets the ball. Rowan, under the tutelage of assistant coach Brandon Taliaferro and junior setter Miles Partain, has been coming in at the end of sets to gain game-play experience for later in the season. (Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin staff)
UC Santa Barbara
Friday, 7 p.m.
UCLA Live Stream
UC San Diego
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Pac-12 Los Angeles
By Bryan Palmero
Jan. 18, 2023 8:56 p.m.
Two weeks into the season, the Bruins are seeing double.
A pair of starting-caliber setters in junior Miles Partain and freshman Andrew Rowan, and two new assistant coaches – both with esteemed prior playing careers with the blue and gold.
No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (4-0) will continue that trend with a two-match homestand against No. 12 UC Santa Barbara (1-4) on Friday and UC San Diego (2-4) on Saturday. The Bruins faced both teams at the Asics Invitational to start their 2023 campaign.
Rolling out different starting lineups – including an all-reserve rotation against the Tritons – across the contests in early January, coach John Speraw led his team to two sweeps, an outcome he said he owes to his talented roster.
“It is my deepest team, no doubt about that,” Speraw said.
At the heart of Speraw’s Bruins are his setters. Anchoring the starters, Partain has continued to build upon his breakout All-American sophomore season by leading UCLA to a .391 hitting percentage. Rowan has broken into the rotation and cracked the leaderboards, knocking down .818 service aces per set – good for 10th in the country.
[Related: Distinguished freshman Zach Rama and Andrew Rowan to join UCLA men’s volleyball]
The embarrassment of riches at the position is only inflated further by the offseason addition of assistant coach Brandon Taliaferro, a four-year letterwinner for the Bruins from 1997 to 2000. Taliaferro is the program’s all-time leader in set assists across a career, a single season and a single match.
Under the tutelage of Partain and Taliaferro, Rowan has been a student, soaking in knowledge from his team.
“Miles is as good as it comes,” Rowan said. “He’s a great athlete, so there’s a lot to learn from him. Obviously, Brandon was a great player back in his day. … He’s a great coach. He knows how to teach setting.”
And that learning has paid off.
Rowan fed his teammates with 24 assists and slammed six service aces in his first career start, against UCSD on Jan. 6. His play earned the trust of a typically hesitant Speraw, who said he inserted Rowan at the end of contests to accelerate the freshman’s development for the end of the season.
Four matches in, Speraw is aware of his team’s potential after knocking on the door of the national championship match last year, but he is also conscious of what to improve upon.
“We’re still winning matches, I think, pretty handily,” Speraw said. “This team has tremendous upside. We have a lot of work to do.”
In a bid to diversify his squad’s offense, Speraw said the team has embarked on numerous long-term undertakings. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Grant Sloane has experimented with his attacking approach, and UCLA has continued to emphasize the back-row quick with junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin.
The multifaceted offensive scheme is essential for a Bruin program that relies on no one player to show up. Three different outside hitters have led the team in kills across its four matches, including senior Alex Knight against Princeton on Saturday.
[Related: UCLA men’s volleyball claims victory over Princeton’s trash-talking Tigers]
Knight, who leads UCLA with 2.7 kills per set, is only 69th in the country in the statistic and one of two Bruins to crack the top 100. His upcoming opponent Saturday, Triton outside hitter Ryan Ka, slams home a 25th-best 3.48 kills per set.
But Knight’s ready for the rematch ahead at Pauley Pavilion, even if he won’t be seeing a mirror image in the offense across the net.
“They’re going to play better, for sure,” Knight said. “It’s our job to have a good week training and then come in hot, knowing they’re going to want to beat us after going down last time.”