When: Monday, February 24, 5 PM PST
Where: Maples Pavilion, Stanford
Watch: Pac-12 Network
Yesterday afternoon, in the first match of UCLA's northern California road trip, the Bruins made relatively easy work of Pacific. The task will be much tougher today as the third-ranked Bruins (12-3, 9-2) face the eighth-ranked Cardinal (9-5, 6-5).
Coach Speraw took a surprising approach to yesterday's match against Pacific--he fielded an inexperienced lineup that saw senior starters Robart Page and Spencer Rowe on the sidelines, replaced by freshman Mitch Stahl starting his first game as OH, and redshirt junior Clayton Paullin at MB. In addition, Coach Speraw gave freshman Hagen Smith just his second start at setter and Grant Chalmers his second start at libero. Although it's terrific that Coach Speraw has confidence in his young players and is dedicated to giving his players meaningful opportunities to compete and succeed, it will be interesting to see if his tactical decision has any repercussions for the cohesion of the Bruins' offense today.
Although it's difficult to predict the starters on a game-by-game basis, we'll probably see a lineup of Quiroga, Page, Rowe, Kersten, Bantle and Smith today, with Ian Sequeira at libero. I had hoped that Steve O'Dell would have recovered from his foot injury by now, but in the meantime, it appears that Hagen Smith has won the role of backup setter.
Stanford is similar to UCLA as an attacking force. Stanford leads the MPSF in hitting percentage (the Bruins are second), is fourth in kills/set (UCLA is third), and is first in aces/set (UCLA is second). Stanford's biggest attacking threats are seniors Steven Irvin and Brian Cook; expect the Cardinal to run a lot of its offense through those two attackers, not unlike the way the Bruins run most of their offense through Page and Quiroga.
The fact that UCLA is on the road, facing a resurgent Cardinal attack means that this match will probably be very close. The key for the Bruins will be putting a lot of pressure on the Stanford serve reception unit in order to disrupt the Cardinal attack. That means UCLA must minimize serving errors while still finding a way to deliver tough serves. The team that passes better will likely win; if the Bruins concentrate on the basics--good passing and proper defensive positioning--they should be able to return home with a very important road win.
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