Projected preseason top 10 national rankings: No. 3 UCLA

UCLA is projected by Off the Block to be No. 3 in the preseason national rankings.

Off the Block throughout December will reveal its projected men’s volleyball preseason top 10 national rankings and will profile a top-10 team each day. The Off the Block projected preseason rankings were created independently of the AVCA Coaches Poll and the Volleyball Magazine Top 10 Media Poll.

The college men’s volleyball season begins on Jan. 3 and concludes with the Final Four in May.


Check out what to know about UCLA as it enters the 2012 season.

2012 SEASON PROSPECTUS
Hall of Fame coach Al Scates has six starters from last year returning for the upcoming season. Among these starters includes setter Kyle Caldwell, middle attacker Wes Dunlap and outside attacker Gonzalo Quiroga. All three players were named Off the Block Preseason All-American and represented their nations in international tournaments during the offseason. This will also be the final season for Scates. Scates, the winningest coach in NCAA volleyball history, is entering his 50th season as the Bruins head coach and announced in May that he would retire following the 2012 season.

2011 SEASON RECAP
The Bruins ended the regular season in eighth place in the MPSF to clinch the final spot in the conference tournament, but lost to its crosstown rival USC in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals. UCLA was one of the streakiest teams in the nation last season. The team two winning streaks of at least five matches and two losing streaks of at least four matches. In addition, the Bruins in non-conference play went undefeated at the Outrigger Invitational and won the four-team tournament.

EARLY-SEASON MATCH TO WATCH
UCLA will return to Hawaii to defend its Outrigger Invitational title and will open the non-conference tournament against Lewis on Jan. 12. Lewis ended last season No. 12 in the coaches poll and had upset victories against Long Beach State and the eventual NCAA champions Ohio State. For more on UCLA’s upcoming schedule, check out the team’s complete schedule breakdown.


FIVE QUESTIONS WITH COACH AL SCATES
[Editor’s note: Off the Block interviewed Al Scates in May after he announced he would retire following the upcoming season. This is an excerpt from that earlier interview]

Off the Block: You announced that you will retire at the end of the 2012 season. Why now?

Al Scates: I wanted to retire when I was still heathy and can travel with my wife and do things she wanted to do. I traveled the world as a player and coach, but much of time she was raising our three children and didn’t get to. Lately she’s been able to do lots of traveling with team. She supported me for long time and she was going to work full time when I went back to school to get my masters. She wants me to be here to enjoy life more and give her more of my time than I have been able to do all these years.

OTB: With this being your last season, does it change the way you approach the upcoming season?

AS: No, the only difference is I have a veteran squad coming back. I’m going to change positions for a few key players. I already know what we have to do to become a champion, and I know how to it. I’m not going to have to do as much experimenting in the preseason where I’m changing positions and attempting to find the best six. I know these guys and who are the best athletes right now. I know how to make them better and they work hard. We are going to be working hard to win our 20th national championship.

OTB: Speaking of national championships, it’s been five years since you won your last championship. That’s kind of considered a drought for your program ….

AS: I think it happened once before. There are so many good male volleyball players and club players and so few scholarships that everyone has a great team. Everyone in our league is good and there are no push overs.

OTB: You’ve been involved in UCLA volleyball since joining the team as junior in 1959. How difficult is it going to be for you to leave?

AS: I’ve built this program and the program is going to be in good hands for whoever takes over. I raised a lot of money for the program and it’s in good shape. We have some outstanding young outside hitters that I trained last year. It’s a good time to leave. Fifty years long enough, and we can bring in someone who is younger with a little more energy. I haven’t recruited last few years. Come to think of it, I haven’t ever recruited. I’ve not been out there like a couple of coaches. … I’m getting my knee replaced in May. This past year during practices I’ve had difficulty standing up the entire practice.

OTB: Could you have imagined being this successful when you came to UCLA in 1959?

AS: When I came to UCLA I had never played on a volleyball team before. I played basketball, baseball and football. Volleyball was the only team I was ever cut from at UC Santa Monica. I didn’t know anything about the sport and started playing on the beach before I transferred. … I just wanted to make team at UCLA. They would practice in the evening, which was good for me because I worked at the parks in the afternoon. I made team and I was really happy. I was not thinking then about being a volleyball coach. I wanted to coach, and I coached high school football. I said I’d be basketball coach and was looking at a high school basketball job when the coach at UCLA told me he was going to Japan to do research. … That changed everything.