UCLA rebounds from early upset scare to beat Harvard

Photo by Jonathan Bates.

UCLA coach John Speraw leading up the NCAA Tournament called his offense a work in progress that could initially struggle in its opening-round match because of the 10-day layoff since the conference tournament.

The Hall of Famer was onto something.

UCLA had to rally from an opening-game loss to defeat the EIVA champions Harvard 23-25, 25-21, 25-11, 25-21 on Tuesday in Los Angeles to advance to the VolleyFour.

The Bruins in the first game committed a team-high six attack errors and then had a combined 10 attack errors in the final three games. UCLA also out-hit Harvard .390 to .165, including having a .367 attack percentage in the game-one loss.

UCLA opposite Christian Hessenauer finished with both a team-high 22 kills on a .381 attack percentage and 10 digs. Hessenauer was one of the five Bruin starters to hit at least .300 against the Crimson.

Middle attacker Oliver Martin was a perfect nine kills on nine attempts. Daenan Dyimah, the 2018 Ryan Millar Award recipient as the nation’s top middle attacker, contributed 11 kills on a .500 attack percentage.

Gyimah and Oliver also each had five blocks and Hessenauer added a match-high six blocks as UCLA out-blocked Harvard 13 to 7.

Harvard after hitting .348 in the opening game was held to a combined .108 attack percentage in the final three games.

The Crimson were playing without All-EIVA outside attacker Brad Gretsch who suffered an injury before the match. Setter Matthew Ctvrtlik along with running Harvard’s 6-2 offense had a team-high eight kills.

Libero Chase Howard led Harvard defensively with 15 digs.

Despite the victory, UCLA committed 25 service errors. It was third-most service errors in a NCAA Tournament match during the 25-point rally scoring error

This was UCLA’s first NCAA Tournament victory since beating Penn State in the 2006 NCAA Tournament finals to win the program’s 19th national championship. Speraw, who led UC Irvine to three national championships before coming UCLA, also becomes one of the first men’s volleyball coaches to lead two schools to NCAA Tournament wins.

UCLA will now advance to play BYU in the VolleyFour on Thursday in a rematch of the MPSF Tournament finals that the Cougars in four games.

The Crimson were making their program’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Harvard after opening the season 1-8 rebounded at the start of conference play as it finished in second place and won the EIVA Tournament.

The opening-game win made Harvard the second East Coast team besides Penn State to win a game in a non-consolation NCAA Tournament match since 1974.