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UCLA Men's Volleyball Set for Success against Princeton

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Top-ranked UCLA has a challenging week of volleyball ahead with three matches in five days, including big conference matches against Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge. It all starts tonight with a nonconference tilt against the Princeton Tigers.

@berkeslaw

#1 UCLA Men's Volleyball (7-0, 4-0)

Opponent: Princeton (0-3)

When: 7:00 PM PST, Monday, January 25, 2016

Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA

AudioBruin Audio

Video: Pac-12 Networks

Live StatsUCLA StatBroadcast

Official Match PreviewMatch Notes (None available)

After facing five top-15 teams in its opening seven games, UCLA gets a breather tonight against the Princeton Tigers (0-3).

How bad is Princeton? Frankly, it's hard to tell since the Tigers also opened the season against ranked teams: #6 Ohio State and #6 (in Canada) Laval. However, Princeton has won only 1 of its first 10 sets, and the Tigers have five new starters this season. Everything points to a three-set match between the Tigers and the Bruins.

After six straight games on the road to open the season, this will be just the second home game for UCLA in 2016. On Saturday against #15 USC, the Bruins weren't at their best, but their best wasn't required to send the Trojans home with another loss.

The 3-1 victory (27-25, 23-25, 25-21, 25-19) is a little misleading; the Bruins didn't really begin to show their superiority until the third set. In particular, the UCLA attack was inconsistent, and its serve reception wasn't anywhere near its best. Fortunately, the Bruins' serve continues to be incredibly strong, with a total of 11 aces from seven different Bruins against Southern Cal. Mitch Stahl led UCLA with 3 aces, and Micah Ma'a and Michael Fisher each added 2.

Jake Arnitz paced the UCLA attack with 14 kills (.480), while Ma'a notched 10 kills to go along with 18 assists, 9 digs and 6 blocks. Fisher started opposite Arnitz, but struggled with 6 attack errors to go with his 7 kills. Unless Fisher's hitting improves soon, JT Hatch may replace him in the starting lineup.

Oliver Martin and Mitch Stahl were solid in the middle against USC, combining for a dozen kills and 11 blocks. Hagen Smith led the Bruins with 24 assists and, as always, contributed great defensive work and leadership on the court. Freshman libero Davis Gillett also deserves special mention for his outstanding play in his three weeks of collegiate action; he'll be a fixture on the court for the Bruins for several more years.

Coach Speraw will likely change his starting lineup tonight to give his bench players an opportunity to develop their skills and confidence. To that end, we may see freshman Dylan Missry start against the Tigers, and we may see MB Eric Sprague as well. It's always difficult to predict Coach Speraw's lineups though, and with a big match against Long Beach State on Wednesday, it's likely that Coach Speraw's roster management tonight will be based largely on his plans for Wednesday's match.

For those watching UCLA Men's Volleyball for the first time in 2016, keep an eye on freshman Micah Ma'a. In my opinion, he's the best freshman in the country. Ma'a has a wonderfully well-rounded game; it's such a pleasure to watch a player who combines great athleticism and poise with such a high volleyball IQ.

As long as UCLA doesn't fall into the trap of looking ahead to their match against Long Beach State in two days, it should be straightforward for the Bruins against the Tigers: three sets and done.

Go BRUINS!