We talk, and it's fun. We are excited to be able to play against them again —BYU senior Price Jarman
LOS ANGELES — NCAA tournaments are typically events pitting unfamiliar opponents together from around the country to find out who is the nation's best. But that won't be the case when No. 2 seed BYU (22-6) squares off against No. 3 UCLA (25-7) in Thursday's semifinal round.
Sure, both teams are considered two of the nation's best, considering their resumes compiled prior to the start of the tournament. The lack of familiarity, though, is definitely not there, and not solely due to the reason both have already played three times this year.
Throughout interviews leading up to Thursday's match, BYU players have mentioned how they grew up playing with or against a lot of the players on the Bruin roster.
"We actually have a good relationship with a lot of their guys. We're buddies with them," said BYU senior Price Jarman. "We talk, and it's fun. We are excited to be able to play against them again."
The two teams have compiled similar credentials entering Thursday's match, although the Cougars beat the Bruins in four sets to win the MPSF championship just prior to the NCAA Tournament. They also have a somewhat similar style of play, with both teams featuring some very athletic and physical players at the net.
For BYU, that style of play is typical and set forth this season by hard-swinging players like senior Brenden Sander (6-foot-4) and freshman Gabi Garcia Fernandez (6-7.) UCLA has players who can match the Cougars' physicality at the net, however, led by standouts like Jake Arnitz (6-7) and Daenan Gyimah (6-8.)
"I try and tell (UCLA setter) Micah Ma'a to not set Daenan that much because I don't know if there's a physical way to stop that kid," Jarman said. "But we just hope we can keep them out-of-system with our serve. ... I don't know if there's a way to stop some of the athleticism they present."
Jarman, who stands in at 6-9, is remarkably athletic himself and played a big role in the Cougars overpowering the Bruins for the win in the MPSF championship.
As for UCLA, players and coaches have a lot of respect for the Cougars and recognize the need to be better in receiving BYU's serve if they hope to advance to the championship match.
They’ve done a really good job of float serving us. They scored a lot of points with that serve when we were there for the MPSF finals," said UCLA coach John Speraw. "Our float serve reception will be a very important part of our win, our hopeful win. As always, serve and pass will be a big part of this match.”
One of the Cougars providing some of the more effective float serves is senior Leo Durkin, who relishes the opportunity to match up once again with the Bruins.
“It’s UCLA. We’re always excited for an opportunity to have another match against them," he said. "We know the guys on that squad, we love playing against them, it’s a good, competitive environment. I think, going into this match, a bunch of us guys are just grateful for the opportunity that we get to have another Final Four appearance."
Despite both teams holding so much history in their respective men's volleyball programs, both are hungry for another championship, with UCLA last winning it all in 2006 and BYU in 2004.
"Historically, I was a part of that. I want to be a part of that, and I want to bring that back," Speraw, who was part of national championships while playing at UCLA and then coached UC Irvine to a title. "That’s certainly a mission of mine. We’ve talked about it. We’re here to win."
BYU coach Shawn Olmstead, who was part of that 2004 championship team certainly holds the same desire, not so much for himself, but for the players.
"They're not talking about it, but you can just kind of see it and feel it," Olmstead said of his players working toward the ultimate goal that is now in clear focus.
Thursday's match will begin at approximately 8:30 p.m. MDT, and will be streamed live at ncaa.com. The winner will advance to the championship to take on either No. 1 seed Long Beach or No. 5 Ohio State, with those teams squaring off at 6 p.m. on Thursday in the other semifinal match.