By Cybele Zhang
Thursday night No. 9 Stanford men’s volleyball (7-3, 0-0 MPSF) travels to Los Angeles to take on No. 4 University of California, Los Angeles (8-2, 0-0 MPSF) for both teams’ first conference game of the season. The Cardinal enter the game on a two-game losing streak after dropping a double header in Hawaii and must bounce back quickly to remain relevant this season.
The game kicks off Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, which will certainly be intense this year. Other conference teams include No. 7 Brigham Young (4-2, 0-0 MPSF), Concordia (4-8, 0-0 MPSF), Grand Canyon (7-5, 0-0 MPSF), No. 5 Pepperdine (6-2, 0-0 MPSF) and No. 14 Southern California (6-4, 0-0 MPSF).
The Bruins enter the game on a three-game win streak and have already defeated powerhouses such as No. 6 University of California, Santa Barbara (9-3, 0-0 Big West) and No. 8 Loyola Chicago (7-3, 0-0 Missouri Valley Conference) — both teams ranked above Stanford.
UCLA was the NCAA National Championship runner-up last season and is coached by John Speraw, who has coached the men’s national team since 2013.
UCLA has a solid offense with numerous players who pose a threat at the net. Opposite Brandon Rattray has 113 kills on the season and averages 3.77 kills per set on hitting 0.335. Middle blocker Daenan Gyimah, a member of the Junior Canadian National Volleyball team and the Youth Canadian National team, also has an incredible swing. The middle blocker has 90 kills on the season and averages 2.73 kills per set on hitting a staggering 0.550.
Setter and Hawaiian native Micah Ma’a is also a force to be reckoned with. He has an uncanny ability to read the opposition’s defense and competes with the U.S. Men’s Volleyball Junior National Team in the offseason.
On the other side of the net, Stanford has yet to prove their consistency, and this game will be key in shaping the remainder of their season. If the Cardinal hope to make the NCAA tournament, they must get back on track now to cement their place in the MPSF.
In their most recent game against Hawaii, Stanford was held to only a 0.236 attack percentage, and only two players — senior outside hitter Jordan Ewert and sophomore opposite Jaylen Jasper— had double digit kills. To make an impact against UCLA, these two cannot carry the team alone. Middle blockers junior Stephen Moye and sophomore Kyler Presho need to take charge to open up attack from the middle.
This game is Stanford’s chance to make a statement and show that they can bounce back from a tough loss. The Cardinal cannot let their mediocre performance in Honolulu dictate their entire season.
First serve is at 7 p.m. PST Thursday at Pauley Pavilion.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.