Energy is important for a young team.
Taking the court with a little extra pep in one’s step can be the difference between a fast start and a long evening.
The UC Merced men’s volleyball team has learned all about that in its inaugural season. And that energy seems to be present in a little greater abundance each time the Bobcats take the court.
There was plenty to go around at Hostetler Court on Friday night thanks to the opening-set efforts of middle blocker Samuel Hala’ufia. The 6-foot-6 freshman was a one-man wrecking crew, opening the match with the first of his team-high 3.5 blocks and following it up with seven of his eight kills. UC Merced rode that momentum to its second straight victory and first ever sweep, 25-23, 25-20, 25-18 over Johnson and Wales University.
“With our team we need that extra little push,” Hala’ufia said. “I feel like we’re taking the court a little more prepared to play each time out. I was just fed the ball early tonight and was able to provide a little spark.”
He certainly did as the Bobcats (2-4) looked like they might break the first set open early. Hala’ufia had two kills during an 8-2 run the gave UCM a 14-7 lead.
Johnson & Wales (0-4) settled in, however, and answered with a 7-1 run that trimmed the lead to 15-14.
The two teams battled back and forth from there before the Bobcats pulled it out. Setter Scott Livesay sealed the 25-23 victory when his kill attempt couldn’t be returned by the Wildcats.
Johnson & Wales got off to the fast start in set two behind Francis Berrios-Hernandez (match-high 12 kills). A Weston Buker block gave the Wildcats an early 7-3 lead.
UCM chipped its way back into the match behind the big swings of Daniel Sabzezhar (team-high 11 kills) and Nico Duvekot (seven kills). A 5-0 run gave the Bobcats a 19-15 lead and J&W never threatened again.
Merced left no doubt in the third set, riding Livesay’s serve to an 8-0 run that put them up 19-12. Livesay (team-high 25 assists and 11 digs) delivered the final blow with his sixth kill of the night.
“Sam was definitely the spark tonight,” UCM head coach David Noble said. “We try to establish our middle early for that very reason. He’s big. He can jump out of the building. Why not get him going early?
“They did a good job of responding by attacking our younger players, but I felt like our depth paid off. If someone was struggling we just subbed them out and the next guy stepped up.”