#2 UCLA Men's Volleyball (19-3, 13-3)
Opponent: #11 Cal State Northridge (13-10, 6-10)
When: 7:00 PM PST, Thursday, March 24, 2016
Where: The Matadome, Northridge, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: CSUN Live Stream
Live Stats: SideArmStats
A lot has happened in the nearly two weeks since the Bruins played their last game. While UCLA took a break for exams, the rest of the MPSF teams took turns inflicting wounds on each other. Two weeks ago, the fourth-ranked Bruins were in fourth place in the conference, trailing Long Beach State, BYU, and Stanford. Today the Bruins are the #2 team in the nation and are tied for first place in the MPSF standings.
Of course the gains made while the Bruins were on their break can easily be lost now that UCLA is returning to the court. Just ask Long Beach State--the 49ers were defeated in five sets by Cal State Northridge on Saturday. That result shows not only how dangerous the Matadors are, but how difficult it is to consistently beat MPSF opponents.
Two weeks ago, the Bruins enjoyed a comfortable 25-23, 25-21, 25-18 victory against Concordia in a match that featured significant playing time for only a few of Coach Speraw's starters. Seldom used hitters Michael Fisher and Christian Hessenauer led the Bruins in kills with 17 and 11, respectively. Freshman OH Dylan Missry and senior MB John Zappia also earned rare starts. Significantly, the Bruins reverted to a 5-1 with Micah Ma'a playing as the sole setter. Overall, the match serves as a fine example one of the qualities that makes John Speraw such a terrific coach: he understands the importance of developing his bench players by giving them opportunities.
Tonight, however, the starters will undoubtedly be back on the court. The #11 Matadors (13-10, 6-10) may be in eighth place in the conference, but they shouldn't be underestimated. They are a tough home team, and they're battling to qualify for the MPSF tournament. In other words, there's a lot at stake for both teams tonight.
The Matadors have a good pair of outside attackers in freshman Dimitar Kalchev and junior Jakub Ciesla. Kalchev is particularly dangerous because of his serve--he's the current MPSF leader in aces/set, just ahead of Micah Ma'a. The Matadors also have a strong middle blocker in 6'9 sophomore Josiah Byers. Unless the Bruins can serve effectively to put the Matadors under pressure, Byers could have a big night.
UCLA begins a terribly difficult stretch of games tonight. After playing Northridge, the Bruins travel to Long Beach to play the #4 49ers on Saturday. Then next week the Bruins host #3 BYU for a pair of matches before closing out the regular season the following week against #5 Stanford and #6 Pepperdine. It's an unforgiving portion of the schedule. Realistically, the Bruins probably have to win 5 out of those 6 games to have a good shot at winning the MPSF title outright. UCLA certainly can't rely on BYU, Long Beach State, and Stanford giving each other losses. Aside from a remaining match between the 49ers and the Cardinal, those teams are finished playing each other. That means that, more than likely, the Bruins will have to do the heavy lifting themselves.
It all starts tonight against Cal State Northridge. The Bruins have already earned an MPSF tournament berth--they're fighting for the conference regular season title now. For UCLA to head into the final week of the season with a shot at winning the regular season title, they really have to beat the Matadors tonight.