When: Friday, February 28, 9 PM PST
Where: Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu
Listen: NBC Sports Radio Honolulu
Watch: OCSports UH Live Stream
After a successful northern California road trip that saw the third-ranked Bruins defeat Pacific and Stanford on consecutive days, the team returned home for just a few days before flying to Honolulu to face 11th-ranked Hawai'i in matches on Friday and Saturday. UCLA (13-3, 10-2) is currently in possession of second place in the MPSF, half a game behind BYU and a full game ahead of Pepperdine. After losing a pair of road games to USC, the Warriors (9-6, 7-5) sit right in the middle of the MPSF standings in seventh place, just behind the Trojans and ahead of the Cardinal.
UCLA has already beaten Hawai'i this season in the final match of the Outrigger Invitational tournament in Honolulu. The final score was 3-1 (25-19, 14-25, 25-19, 25-16), which pretty accurately reflects the difference in quality between the two teams. However, the Warriors do tend to play much better at home than on the road, and historically the Hawai'i road trip has proven difficult for most teams, so the Bruins will have to play with focus and energy to return home from Honolulu with a pair of victories.
Coach Speraw continues to demonstrate great confidence in his young and inexperienced players. On the northern California road trip, freshman libero Grant Chalmers and freshman setter Hagen Smith both earned their second and third starts of the season. In the critical match against Stanford, freshmen Jackson Bantle, Mitch Stahl and Michael Fisher shared time at opposite. Since Michael Fisher is from Hawai'i, I suspect that Coach Speraw will make a good effort to find playing time for Fisher on the road trip.
It's now been 10 matches that Coach Speraw has been forced to use a backup setter in place of injured Steve O'Dell. Although Michael Beals played admirably in his stint as O'Dell's replacement, and in spite of the fact that Hagen Smith has demonstrated terrific potential as a setter, the Bruins miss O'Dell and will need him to return if they hope to make a run at national title number 20. However, there is still no news on a likely return date for O'Dell other than vague suggestions that he's "close to returning."
Like UCLA, Hawai'i is an attacking team, though the Warriors are less efficient in attack and in serving that the Bruins. Their three main attacking options are redshirt junior middle blocker Taylor Averill, sophomore outside attacker Sinisa Zarkovic from Serbia, and junior outside hitter Brook Sedore from Canada. The Bruins continue to run the vast majority of their offense through senior outside hitters Gonzalo Quiroga and Robart Page. With the replacement of Michael Beals by Hagen Smith, and with Page's decision to return to use of a jump float serve, UCLA's serving game has become a bit less threatening recently. Aside from Quiroga and Bantle, most of the Bruins' other servers are not doing a very good job of putting pressure on opponents' serve reception.
If the Bruins are going to return home from Honolulu with a sweep, they'll need to perform well in three key areas:
1. Serve reception. UCLA has a very efficient offense when the ball is passed reliably near the net so that the setter has the option of a middle attack.
2. Put pressure on the Warriors' offense with a smart serving game. In particular, our jump float servers have to minimize serving errors--a low reward serve is only acceptable if it is also a low risk serve.
3. Use the middle attack early in the match. The value of Rowe and Kersten lies in the threat of a middle attack, not necessarily in the attack itself. Establishing a middle attack early will take some of the pressure off Quiroga and Page.
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