Brandon Johnson | Off the Block special contributor
After splitting the first two games of its VolleyFour match on Thursday, BYU and UCLA found themselves tied at 23 in the pivotal third game. In a match that featured nine 2018 AVCA All-Americans, UCLA coach John Speraw scanned his bench for a serving sub, and it was unheralded true freshman Grant Maleski that got the call.
Maleski, who prior to the that match had played just 13 games in his first year at UCLA, fired a momentum-changing ace that helped propel the Bruins to a four-game win against the Cougars.
“The young kid has got no fear. He’s just a freshman going out there and having fun,” Speraw said. “He’s been serving great in practice so I figured what the heck and it worked pretty well.”
Although he did not see regular playing time this year, Maleski is no stranger to the big stage. In February, Maleski filled in for regular starting opposite Christian Hessenauer against Long Beach State and tallied 13 kills in a four-game loss at Pauley Pavillion.
On Saturday, Maleski and his Bruin teammates will get a shot at redemption versus the 49ers, with the winners claiming the national championship crown.
Maleski and the Bruins have been training for this moment all year. His performance was in a way a microcosm of the direction the men’s game has evolved. Although he swung his arm just three times in the match, Maleski racked up two huge aces (including one that ended the match). For the match, the Bruins missed the mark on 22 serves, but they also accumulated seven aces. In contrast, the Cougars failed to collect any aces while missing 25 serves.
“We have been utilizing serving subs more than we have in the past,” Speraw added. “[Maleski] is a great teammate and he’s been working hard all year and so for him to come in and contribute like that is incredible for us. And obviously you could see the response of the team how much they love him and how thrilled they were for him.”
“There is no one on the team that has been working harder in the weight room,” All-American setter Micah Ma’a said about Maleski. “Hard work pays out.”
The Bruins are going to need to continue applying the service pressure if they want to upset the top-ranked 49ers. Long Beach State defeated UCLA twice in February and has one blemish on its resume for the year.
“This is a great team we are going to play,” Speraw added. “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.”
Brandon Johnson is an Off the Block special contributor and writes the column Sideline Observations. His views do not necessarily represent those of Off the Block.