When: Saturday, March 29, 7 PM PDT
Where: Provo, Utah
Listen: BYU Audio
On Thursday night, while Steve Alford was mismanaging a talented UCLA basketball team, Coach Speraw was guiding his team to a much needed victory over Cal Baptist. But the big volleyball news this week is the long-awaited return of setter Steve O'Dell from injury as well as the recovery of Trent Kersten and Robart Page from minor injuries. Although the Bruins didn't dominate Cal Baptist, they won comfortably 3-1 (25-22, 21-25, 25-18, 25-23) despite the fact that O'Dell was playing in his first competitive match in months. And importantly, with the UCLA win and losses by USC, Pepperdine and Long Beach State this week, the Bruins hold sole possession of 6th place, a full game ahead of UC Irvine, 2 games ahead of Southern Cal, and just half a game out of third place.
The bad news is that the #9 Bruins (15-8, 2-7) face a tough opponent in a challenging environment when they travel to Provo to play #2 BYU (16-4, 16-2) tonight. BYU brings a five game winning streak into the match, they are undefeated at home this season, and the Cougars sit in first place in the MPSF with a 3.5 game conference lead. Even with all of our starters healthy again, the Bruins will find it very difficult to pull off an upset against a strong BYU team at Provo.
BYU's attack is led by Taylor Sander, one of the best collegiate players in the country. Josue Rivera is the Cougar's second option on the outside, and Devin Young is the primary threat in the middle. The strength of BYU is its block; the Cougars average over a block more than their opponents. BYU also serves well, which could spell problems for the Bruins since they've struggled for much of the season to find consistency in serve reception.
Setter Steve O'Dell was far from his best against Cal Baptist. The Bruins need O'Dell to return to his early season form if they are going to make a a deep run in the MPSF tournament. Freshman Mitch Stahl played his best volleyball of the season when he was moved to the middle to replace an injured Trent Kersten, and Coach Speraw kept him in the starting rotation with Kersten's return. As the season hits the homestretch, the Bruins will benefit from a stable rotation going into the tournament. Although Coach Speraw's squad may not beat BYU tonight, it's important for the Bruins to hang with the Cougars and pick up a set or two. More than anything else, UCLA needs to recover the confidence it had at the start of the season before injuries took their toll.
The official preview is here.