Brandon Johnson | Off the Block special contributor
Four of the most decorated programs in men’s volleyball history will meet in Los Angeles this week as the 2018 AVCA Men’s Volleyball Showcase takes place at Pauley Pavilion. #9 Penn State, #3 Ohio State and #13 USC will join host #2 UCLA for matches on Thursday and Saturday.
The action kicks off on Thursday as Ohio State (2-1) and USC (3-2) meet at 5 p.m. PST. Penn State (2-0) will face off against UCLA (4-0) with a scheduled start time of 8 p.m. PST. Each match will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
On Saturday, USC will take on Penn State at 11 a.m. PST, followed directly by Ohio State against UCLA.
In total, the four programs have combined for 28 out of the 46 national championships ever awarded in the sport, including the last two by the Buckeyes.
Penn State comes into the showcase having won their first two matches against Mount Olive and Alderson-Broaddus. The Nittany Lion’s hot start is largely attributed to the play of setter Luke Braswell. Braswell is averaging 9.86 assists per set and has guided the Nittany Lions to a .522 hitting efficiency. In addition, Calvin Mende is hitting .629 on the young season, collecting 23 kills with just one error.
Despite graduating Christy Blough, Miles Johnson, Driss Guessous and Gabriel Domecus, the two-time defending champions have their sights set on a third straight title. Blake Leeson (.630) and Nicolas Szerszen (.423) are off to hot starts and the Buckeyes are hitting .347 as a team.
The Trojans jumped out to a quick 3-0 start to the season, but have come back to earth dropping their last two matches to Hawaii and U.C. Irvine. Setter Gert Lisha is averaging 9.85 assists per set, while Gianluca Grasso has collected 4.82 kills per set to go along with nine aces. Jack Wyett collected double-digit kills in four of the team’s first five matches.
Setter Micah Ma’a has led the Bruins to a perfect start through three matches as the Bruins are hitting .357 as a team. In addition, the Bruins have 42 team aces already. Daenan Gyimah is hitting .429 in the early going and has 10 of the team’s aces. UCLA rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat U.C. Irvine on January 10th for early top-5 victory.
Each Team’s X Factor:
Jalen Penrose, Penn State
The uber-athletic Penrose has found consistent playing time early in the 2018 season as a middle blocker. He has responded well so far to the transition, hitting .600 through two matches.
Sam Lewis, USC
The freshman sensation burst onto the scene opening night against Princeton with an 11 kill on 14 errorless swing night (.786). He has yet to slow down and it currently hitting .625 on the season.
Sanil Thomas, Ohio State
In his first year as the full-time setter, Thomas is averaging 10.67 assists per set while leading the Buckeyes to a .347 hitting percentage.
J.T. Hatch, UCLA
Hatch has taken on a dual role this year, dividing his playing time between libero and outside hitter. He is currently averaging 2.11 digs per set while also collecting eight kills on 14 errorless swings (.571).
Pauley Pavilion will also be the host of the NCAA Championship May 3-5
Brandon Johnson is a special contributor for Off the Block. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of Off the Block.