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It’s February! Which in the world of men’s college volleyball means we’re approaching the start of league action and are seeing some major fireworks from the last few weeks of nonconference play.
UCLA Scores First Big Win
After a few disappointing recent losses (to UC San Diego on Jan. 17, Penn State on Jan. 24, and Princeton on Jan. 30), UCLA finally secured its first really big win of the season. The No. 7-ranked Bruins downed Long Beach State in four sets inside LBSU’s Walter Pyramid on Saturday.
It was the first loss of the season for the 49ers, the first home loss since March 2016, and the first win for UCLA in the head-to-head series in the last seven meetings.
Blocking made a huge difference for UCLA, as it out-blocked LBSU 14 to three, helping to hold the 49ers to a .226 team hitting percentage. Matthew Younggren led the Bruins with a career-high seven blocks, while Grant Maleski and Alex Knight each had four.
UCLA’s 6-8 freshman Cole Ketrzynski topped all players with 17 kills, while Simon Anderson — playing opposite instead of his usual middle — led LBSU with 11 kills.
Another Undefeated Falls
In last week’s update, we pointed out that the top four teams in the rankings were undefeated. Seven days later, No. 1 Hawaii and No. 2 BYU both still boast unblemished records, but Long Beach State, as detailed above, lost to UCLA and subsequently dropped to No. 5 in the rankings. UC Santa Barbara also lost its first match(es) of 2020 last week.
The Gauchos traveled to Provo to take on BYU on back-to-back nights, with the Cougars winning both meetings. Despite the losses, UCSB remained No. 3 in this week’s AVCA top 15 poll.
BYU’s junior opposite Gabi Garcia Fernandez collected 18 kills the first night and 12 the next. On Friday night, he moved into No. 10 on the school’s all-time career kills list in the rally scoring era (as only a junior!), and on Saturday, four aces helped him surpass Brenden Sander’s career total and moved the Puerto Rican into second all-time with 118 career aces, trailing only current Team USA outside Taylor Sander (182).
Despite those impressive totals and the final scoreline, UCSB actually won the stat sheet on Saturday night, when the match went to five sets (23-25, 25-22, 20-25, 28-26, 15-11). The Gauchos had the upper hand in kills (64-47), hitting percentage (.283-.201), digs (58-48), and blocks (12.5-10). BYU, however, won the serving contest, scoring eight aces to UCSB’s two. The Gauchos also made 32 costly service errors, with BYU making 23.
The Top 10 Play That SportsCenter Missed
This clip of BYU sophomore outside hitter Davide Gardini pretty much speaks for itself. The 6-9 hitter finished the weekend with 24 kills, but none more impressive than this one.
One legendary volleyball player immediately came to mind when I watched this play. Superman anyone?
“If you’re not paying attention to Princeton you should be.”
That quote came from George Mason head coach Jay Hosack in this week’s episode of College Volleyball Weekly from VolleyballMag.com. He was referring to the fact that not only did Princeton defeat UCLA last week, which we talked about in this column previously, but the Tigers went on and swept CSUN on Saturday.
Offensively, George Huhmann and Jerod Nelsen led the way in both of Princeton’s matches last week — both men had 10 kills in the victory over Northridge. They also each contributed two aces, while Huhmann led the match with six blocks.
The Tigers finished the CSUN match with eight aces and 11 errors — a pretty darn good ratio in men’s volleyball, considering the error totals coming out of other matches (see UCSB’s 32 errors above).
Red-hot Penn State Hits A Wall
Penn State’s 2020 season so far can only be described as streaky. The Nittany Lions lost their first two matches out of the gate, then won four in a row, climbed as high as No. 7 in the AVCA rankings, and then last week lost back-to-back matches at home to unranked opponents.
Against Ball State on Friday night, Penn State made 25 hitting errors, dooming itself to a season-low .147 team hitting percentage.
“I think that we might have overreacted to losing game one in the manner that we did — 23-21, overpass, overpass, then ace, and then all of a sudden I thought we were reeling maybe for the first time this year,” Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik said. “I thought we reacted in a manner that surprised me with, ‘Oh my goodness we're behind! What happened? What are we going to do?’ instead of just doing what we've done all year long, and that is just forget that and play the next point."
Their troubles continued Saturday night with Ohio State earning a sweep of the Lions to improve to 8-1 on the year. The Buckeyes made just seven hitting errors in the three sets, hitting an impressive .427 for the match.
“It's a weekend where we were very inconsistent in just about every aspect of our game, from serving and passing to attacking,” Pavlik said. “I liked our compete level today better than I liked it yesterday. I just thought we kept coming back. Certainly game three showed that, but in opportune moments, we broke down with things that we normally do really well.”
NCAA Men’s Volleyball Matches Live on FloVolleyball This Week
Friday, Feb. 7
Saturday, Feb. 8