#2 UCLA Men’s Volleyball (2-0)
Opponent: #1 Ohio State (1-0)
When: Saturday, January 7, 2017, 3:00 PM PT
Where: St. John Arena, Columbus, OH
TV/Audio: Big Ten Network
Live Stats: OSU GameTracker
After sweeping #13 Penn State yesterday, the second-ranked Bruins will square off against top-ranked Ohio State in the final match of the AVCA Showcase Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge this afternoon.
While much is being made of the fact that these two teams met in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament last season, the Bruins aren't particularly concerned about avenging that tough loss. In my estimation, UCLA was the best team in the nation last season, but a subpar performance against Ohio State cost them the title. The Bruins' focus now is on this season and on raising their standard of play.
So far, so good. UCLA has two strong wins over two very good teams to open the 2017 campaign. The Buckeyes will provide a much stiffer challenge, however.
The Bruins made yesterday's victory over Penn State (25-18, 25-22, 25-17) look fairly routine. As expected, Coach Speraw gave a couple of his starters the day off. Senior Michael Fisher started as a pin attacker in place of All-American Jake Arnitz, and freshman middle blocker Daenan Gyimah replaced junior Oliver Martin.
Gyimah made a great start to his UCLA career with a match-leading 10 kills, 5 blocks, and 3 aces. Senior MB Mitch Stahl had a typically strong game, adding 9 kills and 4 blocks.
Meanwhile, OSU struggled a bit in its season-opening match against the Trojans. The Buckeyes dropped the first set, and then just barely nipped Southern Cal in the second set before settling in and making easier work of the final two sets.
Vinnie Lopes at Off The Block has a brief video recap of the first day of action from the AVCA Showcase:
Off The Block also has postmatch interviews with Coach Speraw and freshman Daenan Gyimah:
With the MPSF regular season starting next week, Coach Speraw will be thinking strategially about what he wants to accomplish in today's match--the Bruins' final tuneup before a brutal conference slate of games. It's quite possible that Arnitz will retun to the lineup today and that JT Hatch will be rested. If so, OH Dylan Missry may get the start. It seems a lot less likely that freshman OH Sam Kobrine would debut today,
Whatever approach Coach Speraw takes against the Buckeyes, it should be a thrilling match to watch. Both teams are expected to return to the NCAA Tournament, though both coaches know that the path back will be very difficult. A loss today isn't likely to dent either team's prospects for the season, but the match should be a good gauge of how far along each team is in preparation for the 2017 campaign.