MPSF Tournament Semifinals
#3 UCLA Men's Volleyball (24-5, 17-5)
Opponent: #4 Long Beach State (24-6, 17-5)
When: 4:00 PM PDT, Thursday, April 21, 2016
Where: Smith Fieldhouse, Provo, UT
Live Stats: BYU StatBroadcast
Last week's MPSF quarterfinals produced just one upset, but it was an upset that had major consequences for the likely NCAA Tournament field. Stanford's loss to UC Santa Barbara means that the Cardinal are now projected to be behind UCLA and Long Beach State in the race to secure an at-large bid.
That's the good news for the Bruins. To the extent that there's bad news, the Bruins still need to beat the 49ers today to ensure that they earn an NCAA Tournament berth should an unexpected result in the MIVA conference tournament leave #2 Ohio State needing an at-large bid to join the NCAA field.
The Bruins advanced to the semis with a relatively straightforward defeat of the seventh-seeded Rainbow Warriors. After racing out to a quick two set lead, the Bruins faltered in set 3 to let Hawai'i back into the match. However, UCLA regrouped in set 4 to close out the match. The final set scores were 25-16, 25-16, 22-25, 25-21.
As they did in their second match of the regular season against Hawai'i, the Bruins dominated at the net. UCLA out-blocked Hawai'i 11 to 2 and outhit the Warriors .362 to .204. UCLA also dominated in serving, ripping 10 aces to Hawaii's 4.
Sophomore Jake Arnitz led the Bruins in hitting with 16 kills and a .483 attack percentage. MB Oliver Martin hit nearly as well, chalking up 7 kills while hitting .455. Junior MB Mitch Stahl didn't have a lot of swings, but he produced an errorless effort in attack, adding 5 kills in 7 attempts for a .714 percentage. Stahl paced the Bruins with 6 block assists, while Martin contributed 4.
UCLA's setting duo of Hagen Smith and Micah Ma'a once again delivered solid all-around games. Ma'a had 21 assists, 7 kills, 2 aces, 6 digs and 3 block assists. Smith produced a similar stat line: 22 assists, 5 kills, 1 ace, 9 digs, and 3 block assists. It's a testament to the versatility of Smith and Ma'a that they've formed a very effective partnership in a relatively short time.
Although the Bruins have enjoyed success against Long Beach State so far this season, the 49ers are without a doubt one of the top-5 teams in the country. Like the Bruins, the 49ers are young and improving, and like the Bruins, the 49ers have a dearth of MPSF Tournament experience. And like the Bruins, the 49ers have not played at altitude this season. Combine those facts together and it becomes very hard to know what to expect in today's semifinal.
UCLA has two wins against the Beach this season. The first came in the last week of January when the Bruins were still undefeated. UCLA dropped the first two sets but came roaring back to claim the match, winning in dramatic fashion with a 15-13 victory in the final set. The two teams met for a second time two month later. This time the Bruins swept the 49ers 3-0, but each set was closely contested.
The Bruins will have to find a way to slow down MPSF Freshman of the Year TJ DeFalco. He's been a force at the net in both of the previous matches. Fellow freshman attacker Kyle Ensing is a handful too, but the Bruins did a good job of containing him last time around. UCLA also did a great job of limiting Long Beach's tough MB Taylor Gregory. If UCLA is able to win the battle in the middle of the net again, it will be difficult for Long Beach State to pull out a victory in their third try against the Bruins.
By the way, Off The Block announced their Freshman All-American team this week. Long Beach State placed three players on the team (opposite Kyle Enging, outside hitter TJ DeFalco, and setter Josh Tuaniga) while UCLA's Micah Ma'a was the sole Bruin representative. UCLA's libero Davis Gillett is listed as receiving votes.