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UCLA men’s volleyball focuses on roster depth ahead of Ohio State, Penn State

UCLA men’s volleyball coach John Speraw prepares a play during a match. The Bruin head honcho has produced four NCAA titles and is in search of retaining last year’s national championship status. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Men's Volleyball

Ohio State
Friday, 2 p.m.

Austin Convention Center
Penn State
Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

Austin Convention Center

By Amelie Ionescu

Jan. 18, 2024 3:43 p.m.

Depth and uncertainty can be considered two sides of the same coin.

The line between them? That’s what John Speraw likes to toe early in the season.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” said the eleven-year Bruin coach. “It’s (the upcoming games are) an opportunity to take a look at a bunch of different guys, and I’ll continue to do so.”

No. 1 UCLA men’s volleyball (4-0) will head to Austin, Texas, to face No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) and No. 7 Penn State (4-0) at the First Point Collegiate Challenge on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The two-game tilt will ensure that at least two more top-ten teams have a blip on their record by the end of the weekend.

Junior outside hitter/opposite Ido David said UCLA is prepared for the matchup.

“We have great passing,” David said. “We can make the other team’s life hard.”

Yet unpredictability surrounds the undefeated Bruins as they take on their first major challenge of the season – finding stability at libero. With five candidates waiting patiently on the bench, Speraw used redshirt senior outside hitter Alex Knight for the last two games, where the squad racked up back-to-back wins.

Incredible depth isn’t new to Speraw, who likes to rotate his bench – which on its own can challenge ranked opponents – as he calculates each player’s distinctive impact on the team.

(Felicia Keller/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Members of UCLA men’s volleyball watch the action from the bench. The squad’s bench runs deep, featuring players capable of gracing the court against the nation’s best. (Felicia Keller/Daily Bruin senior staff)

“We’re pretty aware of what we need to work out,” said sophomore setter Andrew Rowan. “We’re still shaking the rust off, so we have a lot of work to do.”

Speraw returns six All-Americans, including Knight and Rowan. Despite early season shake-ups, much of the roster embodies its role as the top team in the nation. In fact, the only loss to last year’s roster is at the libero position.

By starting Rowan early on last year, Speraw all but solidified how well his strategy of moving pieces around in the early season worked out in the end. Furthermore, allowing redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson a spot in the starting seven to begin this season proved integral in securing the first set against Loyola Chicago on Saturday.

While Speraw might strike controversy, Knight on the court at libero was a calculated and likely temporary move. And with back-to-back ranked matches coming up, many will be watching the reigning AVCA National Coach of the Year adjust to circumstances while the squad continues to improve.

Speraw said he trusts his players to know what to do on the court and how to improve individually.

“The guys understand exactly what they’re supposed to do – this is a mature group,” Speraw said. “They’ve been around, been trained by us for a number of years. I think they know what the expectations are. I think the execution is there.”

With the Nittany Lions being one of the Bruins’ only two losses last season and the Buckeyes climbing the national ranks to land themselves squarely in the top five, David said the two upcoming games allow for an opportunity to showcase the squad’s talent.

The outside hitter/opposite added that UCLA’s robust roster is integral when looking at upcoming matches.

“Each and every one of us has his own skills and can improve the team and others,” David said. “It’s just hard work every day by all of us.”

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Amelie Ionescu | Sports senior staff
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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