#2 UCLA Men's Volleyball (4-0, 1-0)
Opponent: UC San Diego (1-2, 0-1)
When: 7:00 PM PST, Saturday, January 15, 2016
Where: RIMAC Arena, La Jolla, CA
Video: UCSD Live Stream
Live Stats: UCSD Tritons Live Stats
2016 Media Guide: Not Available Yet (Thanks, Dan!)
UCLA earned an important victory over #4 UCI Irvine last night. Although the MPSF season is still in the opening weekend, it was significant that the Bruins knocked off one of the favorites for the conference title on the same night that #1 BYU--one of the other MPSF title favorites--lost to Stanford. With a win against the Tritons (1-2, 0-1) tonight, UCLA will secure its position atop the MPSF and likely claim the top spot in the AVCA Coaches Poll next week.
Although the Bruins beat the Anteaters 3-1, the final score doesn't reflect how close the match was. UC Irvine actually outhit the Bruins for the match (.292 to .269), but UCLA's serving was superb with eight aces. Set scores were 25-19, 24-26, 25-23, 25-23.
Mitch Stahl continued his sizzling start to the season with 14 kills and a .458 attack percentage. He added 3 aces and 5 blocks in an impressive all-around performance. Jake Arnitz also had 14 kills (.344), and he contributed an ace and 4 blocks. Oliver Martin had a solid game opposite Stahl, registering 6 kills (.500) and 4 blocks.
Setters Hagen Smith and Micah Ma'a looked good again directing the Bruins' 6-0 offense. Smith led the Bruins with 29 assists, and he collected 7 digs. Ma'a once again turned in a terrific statsheet-stuffing performance; he had 8 kills (.389), 23 assists, 2 aces, 9 digs, and 2 blocks.
Tonight's match against the Tritons probably won't be close. UCSD opened its MPSF season with a 3-0 (30-28, 25-22, 25-20) loss to #8 UCSB. Although the Tritons weren't blown out, the contest was never in doubt after UCSB took the opening set. Considering the fact that UCSD is expected to compete for last place in the MPSF this season, it would be a major upset if UCLA were to lose tonight.
It's quite possible that Coach Speraw will take the opportunity to give a few of his bench players starting or significant roles against the Tritons. For instance, don't be surprised if freshman Dylan Missry is given another chance to show what he can do. As UCLA basketball fans know, talent on the bench is only useful if it has been developed--players don't become reliable performers by watching. Since Coach Speraw has already demonstrated this season his willingness to give his bench players opportunities in big games, it seems pretty likely that we will see lineup changes again tonight.
As of this week, the top five teams in the AVCA Coaches Poll come from the MPSF conference, making the MPSF regular season title especially difficult to win. For the Bruins to stay in contention for the title, they cannot afford to drop games to any teams outside the top-5. That makes tonight's contest a must-win game for UCLA. And if the Bruins can take care of business tonight, they should find themselves as the top-ranked team in the country next week.