#4 UCLA Men's Volleyball (18-3, 13-3)
Opponent: Concordia (10-4)
When: 7:00 PM PST, Friday, March 11, 2016
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
The fourth-ranked Bruins have a match tonight. The opponent is Concordia (Irvine), a private Lutheran university that is part of the Concordia University system. Concordia is an NAIA school in the process of transitioning to NCAA Division II status. Why then did UCLA schedule a midseason match against the Eagles?
The answer probably has more to do with UCLA's academic schedule than any volleyball considerations. The Bruins are off next week for exams with MPSF action resuming the following week, so it will be 13 days before the team returns to the court after tonight's match. That layoff would have been 17 days if not for the visit of Concordia, so tonight's match should be seen as more of a timely scrimmage than a competitive match. Furthermore, given Coach Speraw's commitment to finding playing time for his bench players, a midseason match against a significantly inferior opponent will give some of UCLA's reserves a chance to sharpen their skills as well.
That said, in 15 days the Bruins have a critically important rematch against Long Beach State. That match will be followed by a two-game set against BYU and then a rematch with Stanford. So in the space of 13 days, the Bruins will play 4 matches against the top three teams in the nation--four matches that will go a long way to determining UCLA's chances of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament this season. It's not ideal, obviously, but at least the Bruins still control their destiny.
To the extent that UCLA and the MPSF need quality wins against teams that will be competing for the two at-large tourney bids, the Bruins' 3-0 victory over #8 Ball State on Monday may potentially help in the postseason. UCLA dominated the match from midway through the first set, running a nicely balanced and efficient attack while putting the Cardinals' offense under a lot of pressure with strong serving. UCLA hit .430 for the match and held Ball State to just .160.
The balance in UCLA's attack was fantastic. Jake Arnitz led the Bruins with 10 kills, but Oliver Martin and JT Hatch each had 9 kills, and Mitch Stahl added 8. UCLA's serving was nicely balanced as well--among the starters, only Oliver Martin didn't serve an ace. In many respects, it was one of the Bruins' best performances of the season.
UCLA won't need anything close to that level of play to defeat Concordia. The Eagles are 0-4 against MPSF competition so far, and that includes losses against UCSD, Cal Baptist, UCSB, and Pepperdine. In those matches, the Eagles managed to win only one set.
Tonight's match should give Coach Speraw a chance to get players like Michael Fisher, Christian Hessenauer, Eric Matheis, Jackson Bantle, Dylan Missry, Eric Sprague and others some much-deserved playing time. It will be interesting to see which players make the most of the opportunity.