NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championships
With the national title on the line Saturday night, a minimum of a 12-year drought will end as UCLA vies for its first title since 2006 and Long Beach State aims for its first since 1991.
The Bruins are making their second NCAA appearance in the last three years after falling to Ohio State in the 2016 Final Four.
Standing in their way of a national championship in 2018 is a familiar foe in Long Beach State. The teams faced off twice back in February with the 49ers winning both matches in four sets. LBSU has won three in a row in the series, including a sweep in 2017.
After Thursday night’s semifinal win over BYU, the Bruins gave a scouting report of the match and talked about what the title would mean to them, especially playing at home.
The Quest for the Title
Junior setter Micah Ma’a said the Bruins are playing without the pressure of matching the 2006 team’s title.
“I think the question of the 2006 thing never really crosses our mind,” Ma’a said. “We all kind of go day by day and we have
enough on our plate to kind of keep us occupied. It’s huge to be able to play in the national championship at home. I’m happy for our coaching staff. They put in so much work, way more than we have. I’m happy for the fans. I’m happy for the alumni. So it’s an act that we wanted to do for everybody and not just ourselves. Of
course it’s nice to be able to be in it yourself too. So it’s a privilege and we are going to treat it as such and be grateful and give it our all.”
Outside hitter Jake Arnitz says one bonus for the Bruins is being able to vie for the title with home court advantage.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Arnitz said. “I think it’s a huge advantage to just be able to sleep in our own beds. It almost feels like
it’s just any other game and it’s not the playoffs or anything. So it’s just nice. And then of course the crowd. I think that helps a lot. Saturday will be interesting with Long Beach because they bring a good crowd being right down the freeway. I think it will be split pretty evenly, but we play in this gym a lot and we’re pretty comfortable in here. So yeah, it’s an amazing feeling to be able to play my last collegiate volleyball game at UCLA no
matter what. It’s pretty special.”
For head coach John Speraw, sees a title as the next step in the program’s progression.
“I don’t think about it a ton,” Speraw said. “It crosses my mind when I look up at the banners and see that there’s a big gap. I think about wanting to fill the gap, but other than that, I feel like from a process view, we’ve done all the right things necessary to get here. We’ve recruited the right student-athletes, we’ve worked really hard, and continue to try to develop a culture that’s healthy and sustaining. Eventually, if we keep doing those things to
the best of our abilities, we hope that that’s enough to put some more numbers on that banner.
“What it would mean to us is that we’re continuing on the right path and that these guys have an opportunity tomorrow to
place themselves in the illustrious history of UCLA men’s volleyball. We want to be a part of all the excellence that goes on at this institution.”
Scouting Long Beach State
“Well they just present so much pressure in terms of their excellent defense both at the net and in the back court,” Speraw said. “It really forces you to be really good on offense. So we have spent tons of time trying to get this offense improved in little bits here and there and I think we have done a really good job of that. A lot of that will have to do with passing and being able to do what we would like to do.
“The last time we faced them I really felt that it was a match that was played from 10 feet a lot. They served the ball really well. So we are going to have to be good at the pins and attacking and playing good, transition ball when we get more opportunities. They also play with great speed. They are the fastest team in the country. So part of this next match is going to be how we adapt to that speed and how we make adjustments. It’s a significant challenge.”
Ma’a said things have changed since the last time the teams tangled.
“We were actually just talking about the last time we played Long Beach. Daenan [Gyimah] hit .300 and Grant [Maleski] was in there and Jake [Arnitz] wasn’t in our starting lineup, so I think a lot of things are different,” Ma’a said. “It’s hard to say if that’s better or worse against a team like Long Beach, but we’re going to find out. We have some of our same strengths, but we’re gonna have to see tomorrow.”
To be sure, Speraw’s team will not be surprised by the 49ers.
“I’ve said before that this is one of the best collegiate teams I’ve ever seen,” Speraw said. I think the numbers prove that. I saw something when I was watching the Pac-12 Networks that some of their statistics are equal to the ’84 Bruins. This is a great team we are going to play. That’s what we want. Shoot, you want to play the best team at the end and we are going to have an opportunity to go do that. We are excited and we are going to go play as hard as we can.”