#5 UCLA Men's Volleyball (1-0)
Opponent: #6 Ohio State (1-1)
When: 2:00 PM PST, Thursday, January 7, 2016
Where: Rec Hall, University Park, PA
Live Stats: Ohio State Buckeyes GameTracker
2016 Media Guide: Not Available Yet (Thanks, Dan!)
As I mentioned in my season preview, fifth-ranked UCLA isn't easing into the season. The Bruins open the 2016 season with three games against top-15 opponents in four days as part of their east coast road trip. On Tuesday, the Bruins passed their first test with flying colors when they swept #14 George Mason. The set scores were 25-23, 25-12, 25-20.
It doesn't get any easier tonight. UCLA opens the Penn State Tournament this afternoon against #6 Ohio State (1-1). The Buckeyes are coming off a sweep of Princeton and are expected to challenge #3 Loyola-Chicago for the MIVA title this season.
What went right for UCLA against George Mason? The short answer is nearly everything. Coach Speraw is experimenting with a 6-0 to start off the season, and based on UCLA's .538 hitting percentage against GMU, you'd have to say that the experiment was successful in its first run.
Sophomore JT Hatch led UCLA will 11 kills while hitting .529. Sophomore Jake Arnitz added 8 kills, and junior middle blocker Mitch Stahl had 7 kills while hitting an errorless .700. Setters Hagen Smith and Micah Ma'a were credited with 17 and 12 assists, respectively. Ma'a also had 5 kills in 7 swings.
The official site has the box score for the match.
It wasn't a perfect performance by any means. UCLA had a total of 23 service errors, and the Bruins' defense wasn't at its best. It was a good start, though, and it will give Coach Speraw's young Bruins a confidence boost as they prepare to battle two top-10 teams in the Penn State Tournament.
Coach John Speraw was interviewed on Wednesday by Destination Volleyball and, among other things, discussed his experimentation with a 6-2 offense this year. As he points out, it's been a long time since the 6-2 system was popular; it takes a special pair of setters to make it effective. Since I was only able to follow the Bruins' opener via a faulty live stats feed, I'd speculated that UCLA was running a 6-0 system, or a hybrid system. Until I can watch a match, I can't be certain about the practical details of the system, but it's clear that junior Hagen Smith and freshman Micah Ma'a are sharing the setting duties. However, the fact that Ma'a had seven attacks against GMU, and that the substitution pattern isn't consistent with a true 6-2, leads me to believe that UCLA is technically running a 6-0, though it's increasingly common for the terms 6-2 and 6-0 to be used interchangeably.
It's worth listening to the entire interview (3+ minutes) as Coach Speraw discusses UCLA's nonconference schedule this year and beyond.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OD1v0xEKfuU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
(Video courtesy of Destination Volleyball.)
One of Coach Speraw's first recruits when he took the helm of UCLA's men's volleyball program was Pennsylvanian Mitch Stahl. With the Bruins in Happy Valley for the Penn State Tournament, Stahl's return to his home state is drawing media attention. For example, there's an article by Lizi Arbogast that starts with this:
For the first time since he hung up his shoes at Chambersburg Area Senior High School, Mitch Stahl will be playing volleyball in Pennsylvania.
Stahl was the best boys volleyball player to ever come through Chambersburg, and he has been hard at work ever since his graduation in 2013. He is now a starting middle blocker for the UCLA men's volleyball team - a position he's held down since last season.
PennLive also has an article about Mitch's return home. As Stahl explains, the lure of UCLA was impossible to resist, even though moving to Los Angeles presented many challenges:
A 6-foot-7 middle-blocking force, Stahl sought change, big change, when he was picking a college, and he had plenty of choices. He came down to Penn State, Loyola (Ill.), Pepperdine and UCLA, but when it was time to decide, Stahl said it was a no-brainer...
"UCLA's location is prime," Stahl said. "It's hard to say no to going to school in Los Angeles and getting a degree from UCLA. There are so many prestigious things about it, it drew me there. I just knew."
Knowing was one thing. Doing was another.
The kid from rural Chambersburg was thrust into a new life with a new pace, surrounded by mostly new people. He had to learn and adapt quickly, but that was part of the allure to moving to L.A. in the first place.
"When I said goodbye to my parents at the airport, it was the hardest moment of my life," Stahl said.
"My freshman year, my first semester, it was challenging. It's hard to get acquainted and acclimated to the area. There's so much to do. I was overwhelmed. The only way you can explain it is sensory overload. You have no down time. It's not that 'Small Town USA' kind of feel, where it's laid back. But living out here for three years, I've come to love that life."
Stahl is a key player for the Bruins this season. He's emerging as one of UCLA's leaders, and he's becoming increasingly productive on the court.
The Buckeyes are a very good team this season. Today's match will seriously test Coach Speraw's relatively young squad, which means that it's ideal preparation for the start of the MPSF season next week.