Dec. 30, 2007
Nineteen-time NCAA men's volleyball champion UCLA begins the 2008 season in Hawai'i at the 14th Annual Outrigger Hotels Invitational, Jan. 3-5. The third-ranked Bruins are the highest ranked team in the field, which includes No.4 Penn State, 11th ranked Hawai'i and unranked Ball State.
UCLA meets Ball State at 4 p.m. (HST) on Jan. 3, followed by a Jan. 4 match against Penn State at 4 p.m. (HST) and a 7 p.m. (HST) showdown against Hawai'i on Jan. 5. All matches will take place at the Stan Sheriff Center.
In its most recent Outrigger Invitational appearance in 2006, UCLA finished with a 2-1 record after defeating Hawai'i in five games on the final night. The Warriors won the tournament championship on a tiebreaker.
In 2008, the Bruins return six players who started at least half of their 30 matches in 2007. Legendary Head Coach Al Scates begins his 46th season with a career record of 1,154-223 (.838). Following are capsule summaries on the Bruins' 2008 personnel:
The Bruins boast two setters with plenty of experience, each with his own strengths. Junior Matt Wade has played 59 matches over two seasons and sophomore Kevin Ker started 17 of the 28 matches he played last season.
"They split the setting duties last season," said Scates. "They've both improved from last season. [At this point] I'm not sure who's going to get the most playing time this year. They will both play a lot."
Wade, at 6-5, has a four-inch height advantage over his counterpart and is a strong blocker. In a five-game victory against UC Irvine on Apr. 6, he came off the bench to score 4.5 points on nine block assists.
Ker has the ability to score more points, recording 25 aces last season for an average of 0.3 per game. As a starter for the final 16 matches, he piloted the Bruins' offense to a hitting percentage of .336 and a 12-4 record. He also scored 1.2 ppg, served 18 aces and averaged 12.3 assists per game.
"It's going to come down to who is setting the best at the time," said the head coach. "They've both worked with all the hitters and they know all the options."
"We've won national championships with two setters before, most recently in 2006 with Wade and Dennis Gonzalez," Scates recalled.
Third-year sophomore Cooper O'Connor is the Bruins' third setter. He recorded nine assists in the alumni match on Nov. 27. Scates says he's confident in O'Connor's ability to back up Wade or Ker.
All-American Steve Klosterman, the Bruins' all-time rally-scoring leader in points, has graduated, and replacing him won't be easy. Still, Scates has the luxury of using one of two players who have varsity experience as starters at this position.
When it became apparent that Perrine would be the starter at opposite, Dunlap was moved to Perrine's blocking spot.
"Right now, Brett would get the starting nod [at opposite]," explained Scates. "He also has a tremendous vertical jump, he's athletic and he hits the ball hard. He also has an explosive jump serve."
As a quick hitter last season, Perrine hit .315 and blocked a ball a game. He recorded 18 aces and scored 248 points in 27 matches. Moving him to opposite better utilizes his athleticism and allows Dunlap, who is 6-7, a chance to start at his high school position.
Junior Sean O'Malley, a two-year letterman at opposite, is battling Perrine for more playing time. Last season a wrist injury limited his playing time to eight matches, although he established a career high of 15.5 points in a starting role against Hawai'i. The previous season, he started seven of the 23 matches in which he played.
"Sean is blocking better and hitting well," said Scates. "This position is just like the setting position: whoever is hot will play the most."
"We've alternated opposites on a couple of NCAA championship teams," he recalled. "In 2000, we used [Evan] Thatcher and [Ed] Ratledge. Going back before that, we used Dan Landry and Mike Diehl in 1993."
The Bruins return one starter at this position and must replace another top scorer, Paul George. Again, Scates has some experienced options as well as some emerging players.
Sophomore Garrett Muagututia started 28 matches as a freshman, averaged nearly three kills per game, and scored 358.5 points. He recorded 12 double-digit kill matches and a pair of double-digit dig performances. An outstanding passer, he recorded a 97.4% reception rate with 17 errorless passing matches.
"Garrett does everything well," commented Scates. "This year he's lighter, he's jumping higher and he's hitting the ball very hard. He's also digging many more balls than last year. He's even more explosive out of the back row. And, he hasn't even reached his potential; he's just going to get better."
Sophomore Dylan Bowermaster appears to be the frontrunner to replace George at the open outside hitter's spot. Last season he played in 17 matches and 27 games, scoring a career-high of nine points against Ball State. He also recorded a career-high of seven kills in a starting role against Cal Baptist.
"Bowermaster has the edge over [two players]," said Scates, noting that the 6-6 Mater Dei HS graduate has a slight edge in experience.
Junior Ryan Ratelle and redshirt sophomore Jeff Woodley also are competing for playing time at this spot. As a freshman in 2006, Ratelle played in eight matches, recording a career-high of four kills and 4.5 points against Hawai'i. In two seasons, he has a perfect passing percentage.
Woodley played in one match last season and recorded his only kill. Against the Alumni he recorded four kills and an ace for five points, and passed all seven of his chances successfully.
Freshman Weston Dunlap assumed the starting role vacated by Perrine when the latter moved to opposite. The 6-7 Dunlap earned six varsity letters at Newport Harbor HS, where he led the Sailors in kills and blocks as a senior and earned All-CIF honors twice. Dunlap also helped the Balboa Bay Club to a pair of bronze medals at the Junior Olympics.
"Dunlap will start at one of the quick hitter positions," said Scates. "As soon as we moved him [to the middle], he became our best hitter there."
According to Scates, Dunlap's quickness, blocking instincts and his ability to run precise routes were the primary reasons that earned him the starting job.
At the other quick hitter spot, a pair of redshirt juniors will battle for playing time. Returning starter Jamie Diefenbach is trying to hold off a vastly improved D.J. Stromath. Diefenbach, who recorded a couple of key blocks in the 2006 NCAA championship match, returns after starting all 29 of the matches in which he played last season. He led the Bruins in blocking with a 1.2 bpg average, a mark that ranks third on the single season rally-scoring chart. He also ranked seventh on the final MPSF blocking chart.
"One thing Diefenbach has developed is a better serve," said Scates. "We will score a lot of points when he's serving."
Stromath, although he has played in just seven matches in his career, has vastly improved his blocking, according to Scates.
"D.J. has become one of the team's best blockers," said Scates. "He doesn't have much playing experience, but he's off to a fast start. His blocking technique is the best on the team."
In addition, 6-8 redshirt sophomore Shaun Nichols played in 18 matches last season. In his first career start, he scored a career-high of 16 points against USC on Mar. 31 with 13 kills and six total blocks.
Senior Tony Ker has established himself as one of the nation's best Liberos, having earned Defensive Player of the Year honors twice and consensus First-Team All-America honors last season. He also is poised to become the Bruins' career digs leader and one of the program's all-time great passers.
Last season, Ker recorded 18 errorless passing matches, raising his career total to 48. He passed better than 97% of his chances, covering a lot of court. In the digs department, he recorded 10 double-digit dig matches, raising his career total to 41.
"Tony is one of the best, if not the best, defensive players in the country," said Scates. "No player in the country passes more court as effectively than Tony. And he keeps getting better.
A solid student, Ker has been a member of the Director's Honor Roll six times, including all three quarters last season, and is a candidate for CoSIDA Academic All-America honors.
The Bruins also will be developing freshman Tom Hastings, a graduate of Esperanza HS, who earned first-team All-CIF, all-conference and all-county honors. As team captain, he helped lead the Aztecs to the Orange County championship.
"He's playing behind a first-team All-American, so we hope to redshirt him," said Scates. "He's an outstanding Libero. He's unflappable out there -- relaxed. He passes our best servers and doesn't get rattled."