The sixth-ranked UCLA men's volleyball team (3-1) opens its 2014 MPSF campaign today with a match at Pauley Pavilion at 3 PM against #1 Stanford (3-0). Both teams will be playing their first conference match of the 2014 season.
Stanford has played well to open the season, but in my opinion, is the top-ranked team by default rather than as a consequence of notable victories. Stanford's best win so far is its season-opening victory against the Bruins in the seventh-place game of the UCSB Invitational. Stanford also has victories against #9 Lewis and unranked Grand Canyon.
Stanford was ranked fifth in the preseason national coaches poll (behind UCI, UCLA, BYU, and Long Beach State), and fifth in the MPSF coaches poll. More than anything else, Stanford's ascent to the top spot in the polls reflects early season struggles by UCI and BYU, and a single tough loss by both UCLA and Long Beach. In other words, it's difficult to know just how good Stanford is at this early stage of the season.
After the loss against Stanford to begin the season, the Bruins showed substantial improvement in their matches at the Outrigger Invitational in Honolulu, defeating #12 Penn State, #15 Ohio State, and #10 Hawai'i to win the tournament championship for the fourth consecutive year.
Today's game should reveal a lot about both teams and represents a particularly important early season conference match for two programs that are legitimate contenders for the MPSF title and an NCAA berth. The Bruins will need to find a way to blunt the effectiveness of a potent Stanford attack. Stanford hit 0.433 the first time the teams met and is hitting 0.361 for the season. Stanford also features a terrific service, so the Bruins will have to be at their best to minimize serve reception errors. If the Bruins can extend rallies, they'll be in good position to give Stanford their first loss of the season.
The match will be shown on the Pac-12 network.