This week, the 4th-ranked UCLA Men’s Volleyball team opens their season against unranked New Jersey Institute of Technology.
UCLA had a disappointing season last year, finishing 17-10 and failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament despite being ranked sixth in the nation.
Expectations seem to be higher this year. Despite being a perennial top ten team, UCLA hasn’t grabbed a national championship since 2006. Could this be the year? It’s not impossible.
UCLA starts the season against three unranked schools before playing No. 7 UC Irvine on January tenth. They don’t get much of a break after that.
UCLA, generally, has an intense schedule due to the strength of their conference. Over the course of the regular season, UCLA will play every top ten team but Lewis University and will play many of them twice.
Early tests for the Bruins include a showdown with No. 1 Ohio State on January 20th. That’s followed by a two-match series against No. 5 Hawai’i. Also, look out for their matchup with last year’s national runner-up BYU in March. BYU has gone 7-0 against UCLA since 2014.
UCLA has probably lost their best player as talented middle blocker Mitch Stahl has graduated and gone on to play for the U.S. national team.
UCLA is anchored by junior opposite Micah Ma’a, who was twenty-fifth in the nation in aces per set and senior outside hitter Jake Arnitz, who along with the aforementioned Stahl was named first team all-conference last season.
The second outside hitter job will be hotly contested between junior Dylan Missry, who was seventeenth last year in aces per serve, and senior JT Hatch, who moved into tenth place on UCLA’s all-time digs last year when he had 139 digs. My gut is that Hatch will earn the spot considering how consistently good he’s been these past few years.
Also worthy of note is 6’8’’ middle blocker Daenan Gyimah, who was one of the nation’s top recruits last season. Gyimah delivered last year, leading the team in hitting percentage, and becoming one of the nation’s strongest freshmen. We should likely expect more of the same from Gyimah this year.
The recruiting class is led by setter Adam Parks, who was listed among the nation's Top 5 recruits on the VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 and could find himself as starting setter. Some other true freshmen who could see action include libero Garland Peed V who will compete for the starting position with redshirt freshman Sam Jones and junior Spencer Sachs. 6’9’’ opposite Grant Maleski is another freshman who has a chance to see a lot of playing time.
2018 UCLA Men’s Volleyball Projected Starters
|Outside Hitter||Jake Arnitz|
|Outside Hitter||JT Hatch|
|Middle Blocker||Daenan Gyimah|
Is this UCLA’s year? It’s certainly possible. On paper, they have all the pieces needed. They have experience in players like Micah Ma’a, JT Hatch, and Jake Arnitz; raw talent in middle blocker Daenan Gyimah, and a class of strong recruits. It’s too early to see if they can challenge for the national championship, but I wouldn’t count it out.