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UCLA men’s volleyball gears up to face UC Irvine in top-10 doubleheader

Senior outside hitter Alex Knight goes up for a hit. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Anthony Aroyan

Feb. 24, 2023 4:53 p.m.

With the season sweep secured against the Cougars, the Bruins are preparing for another back-to-back series.

No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (13-1, 2-0 MPSF) is set for another double-header against No. 6 UC Irvine (9-3) with a chance to extend its win streak to five games.

Since their East Coast road trip, where the Bruins took their first and only loss of the season to Penn State, UCLA has remained undefeated with a 12-1 set count.

In the lead-up to Irvine, the blue and gold will focus on combatting the strength of the Anteaters behind the service line, according to senior outside hitter Alex Knight.

“They’re a great serving team,” Knight said. “We got to get them off the line early because if they can get going, we’ll get pretty behind on their runs.”

But the Bruins have also shown their ability to serve the ball well. UCLA ranks as the No. 2 overall serving team in the nation, with 2.07 aces per set. However, the team has also been subject to errors behind the line, with 70 service errors in its last four matches.

Going into the match, UCLA also ranks second in nationwide hitting percentage with .378, fifth in kills with 12.67 per set and sixth in blocks with 2.54 per set.

In order to counter the Anteaters’ strengths, coach John Speraw highlighted the importance of the passing game.

“There’s some real talent on that team,” Speraw said. “They really bomb at an international level, so we’re going to have to be ready to pass.”

The focal point of the passing game will be freshman setter Andrew Rowan, who continues to be the main distributor for the Bruins. In addition to Rowan, one primary offensive weapon for UCLA will be sophomore outside hitter/opposite Ido David. David holds the lead among the Bruins for most kills this season at 128.

“I always want to show what I can do and what I give to the team,” David said. “The team always supports me and keeps me up.”

Speraw also continues to utilize the depth within his lineup, particularly on the outside, to give new players a chance for more playing time. This took shape in the second contest against BYU, where freshman outside hitter Zach Rama was brought in during the third set.

(Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Coach John Speraw watches his team. Speraw coached for UC Irvine for 10 years before transitioning to UCLA in 2013. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

With another freshman potentially making a case for significant game time, Rowan and Rama continue to cement themselves as contributors this season and in the future.

“He (Rama) has worked his way into the third spot at that outside position,” Speraw said. “He’s young, incredibly talented, has a bright future and hasn’t had that many opportunities to get on the board.”

Defensively, redshirt senior libero Troy Gooch leads the blue and gold in digs with 88, and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Guy Genis leads the team in blocks with 37.

No matter who takes the court for the Bruins this weekend, Speraw said he believes that Irvine, where he was head coach from 2003-2012, will be an important challenge.

“They have an exceptional team, one of the best teams in the country,” Speraw said. “They bring it with a different pace.”

UCLA will travel to face Irvine on Friday at the Bren Events Center at 7 p.m. The Bruins will then return to Pauley Pavilion for a rematch with the Anteaters on Sunday at 5 p.m.

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