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COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL

Bruins Hit the Ground Practicing

May 04, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Isn't midnight madness supposed to come at the beginning of a season?

Less than 48 hours from an NCAA volleyball semifinal match against Penn State, the UCLA men's volleyball team landed Tuesday in Fort Wayne, Ind., checked into a hotel and took an interesting U-turn.

With just enough time to throw down their luggage, the Bruins headed out to a late-night practice.

Local time when they started: 10 p.m. Local time when they ended: Don't ask.

The run-through was Coach Al Scates' answer to a 9 a.m. Wednesday practice slot allotted for the Bruins.

Scates, aware of the two-hour time difference, passed on the early-morning offering, saying he'd rather his team practice late on Tuesday than get up early Wednesday.

"We would have had to get up at 5 a.m. our time," he said. "We knew we would be wide awake when we hit the ground [in Fort Wayne]. We weren't going to go right to the hotel and go to sleep, I guarantee you."

The Bruins are making their 22nd appearance in an NCAA semifinal. They've won 17 titles.

The top-seeded Bruins (27-5) continually shift styles by shuttling players in and out.

Evan Thatcher starts at opposite hitter, but Ed Ratledge, who leads the team with 5.24 kills per game, could finish.

Matt Komer gets most of the playing time at one outside hitter spot, but Cameron Mount is practically guaranteed an appearance.

The Bruins are more stable at middle blocker, though Greg Coon made a surprise entry in the second game of the Bruins' victory over Pepperdine last week in the championship of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.

"We've done more substituting than any of the top teams," Scates said.

The only true mainstays are setter Brandon Taliaferro and outside hitter Mark Williams.

And Matt Davis, who plays the newly created Libero position, plays only in the back row.

UCLA defeated fourth-seeded Penn State (20-13) in a match at the Hawaii tournament in January, winning, 15-4, 15-3, 11-15, 15-2, and serving 10 aces, its second-highest total this season.

Freshman Carlos Guerra averages 4.77 kills per game for Penn State, which stunned UCLA in five games in the 1994 title match, the last time the NCAA championships was held at Fort Wayne.

The other semifinal, between second-seeded Pepperdine (22-5) and third-seeded Ohio State (24-3), also involves a late-night story line.

The Waves defeated Ohio State, 15-10, 15-8, 15-13, in a nonconference match at Pepperdine in March, but the Buckeyes had played a lengthy five-game match against USC the previous night.

Making matters worse for the Buckeyes: Their match against Pepperdine started at an unusually early 4 p.m. the following day.

Ohio State has since won 10 consecutive matches, including two at Brigham Young, the first of which halted a 40-match home winning streak for BYU.

Pepperdine looked sharp in a victory over USC in the semifinals of the MPSF tournament, but tailed off dramatically after winning the first game in the MPSF championship against UCLA.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NCAA Final Four

* Today: UCLA (27-5) vs. Penn State (20-13), 3:30 p.m. PDT; Pepperdine (22-5) vs. Ohio State (24-3), 6 p.m. (Semifinals shown on delayed basis on ESPN2, 9:30 p.m. and midnight).

* Saturday: Championship, 11 a.m. PDT, ESPN2.

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