UCLA made sure that Stanford didn't leave Pauley Pavilion empty-handed yesterday; the Bruins gave the top-ranked Cardinal their first loss of the season, 3-2 (23-25,25-22, 25-23, 29-31, 15-11). In the process, UCLA (4-1, 1-0) claimed a share of first place in the MPSF and dropped Stanford to the bottom of the conference standings.
Robart Page led the Bruins' attack with a career best 26 kills, 2 aces and 9 digs. Although Stanford set up their defensive scheme to muzzle UCLA's strong side attack, Page was able to hit over, around and off the Cardinal block when he attacked through 4, and he was able to help punish Stanford with an effective backcourt attack.
Gonzalo Quiroga had a tougher time hitting outside against the Cardinal. Although Quiroga had 19 kills, he hit just 0.174 for the match and made several hitting errors at the end of the fourth set when the Bruins were trying to close out the set. Most noticeably, he struggled with his sharp angle attack, missing just wide repeatedly. He was much more efficient hitting from the backcourt, and he scored effectively with his usual assortment of tips and roll shots. Quiroga also contributed 9 digs, and as usual, his serve reception was excellent.
Middle blocker Trent Kersten had a big game hitting through the middle, taking advantage of Stanford's focus on taking away UCLA's strong side attack. Kersten had 9 kills, hitting 0.500, and Rowe chipped in with 6 kills. Unfortunately, Kersten and Rowe were less effective in their blocking assignments, although they did a better job in the final set. Setter Steve O'Dell was reasonably good in his decision-making and ball distribution. I was more impressed by his defense though, and as he gains more experience, I expect his blocking to improve.
Coach Speraw made an interesting decision in starting Jackson Bantle at opposite. In previous matches, Mitch Stahl was generally the starter, but by using Bantle instead, Coach Speraw was able to use an alternative serve reception scheme, freeing up Page as a backcourt attacking option. I thought Bantle handled his role well, hitting 0.389, playing solid backcourt defense and making no errors in receiving serve. However, Bantle needs to improve his blocking (as do many of his teammates) and he has to cut down on his service errors (8 against Stanford). Bantle has the potential to be a fantastic server if he can find some consistency; he can snap off a fiendishly tough cut shot or rip a high velocity ace from his jump serve. In a match where the sideout percentages are high as they were yesterday, the ability of the Bruins to field another potent server to complement Quiroga is a valuable asset.
Finally, libero Ian Sequeira did an outstanding job, especially when you consider his limited experience. He led the Bruins with 13 digs, and played a big part in limiting the Cardinal to just two aces. As I wrote in my preview, for the Bruins to win, they needed to shut down Stanford's powerful serving game and extend rallies. Sequeira deserves a lot of credit for his work in handling the pressure of Stanford's aggressive serve.
It's not unusual for teams to play on back-to-back days in men's volleyball, and this weekend is no exception. UCLA will face Pacific at Pauley Pavilion today at 7 PM PST. The match will be televised on the Pac-12 network. Pacific (1-3. 0-1) is unranked and is coming off a straight set loss to UC Santa Barbara. I wouldn't be surprised to see Coach Speraw start freshman Mitch Stahl at opposite tonight to give him more experience. Coach Speraw is very good at seeing the big picture and is very conscientious about developing squad depth by giving his younger players as many opportunities to gain experience as possible. Not only will Stahl be an important contributor this season, he will very likely be a starting outside hitter next year. We may even see freshman Michael Fisher get a chance to play if the Bruins are dominating the match.