We interviewed UCLA junior Brandon Rattray, a transfer from Hawai’i, after his Bruins won their recent NCAA men’s volleyball match at UC San Diego.
Which had its obstacles.
Rattray, whose nickname can be either “Rat” or “Ratway,” is both friendly and garrulous, perhaps too much so, considering our conversation was interrupted every 15 or 30 seconds to receive handshakes or congratulations.
“He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” UCLA senior setter Micah Ma’a said. “The guy doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s the most positive guy I’ve ever met. You’ll never see him without a smile.
“He knows everybody, he’s always trying to meet people and create relationships, he’s a super-special guy. He always wants the best for people around him, he’s extremely grateful, humble, and confident. We thrive off his positivity and obviously his arm.”
The interview interruptions were no surprise, of course, considering that Rattray is from the San Diego suburb of Rancho Bernardo, where he played with UCLA teammate Jonah Kay both in middle school and at Rancho Bernardo High School.
Kay, for that matter, was one of the reasons Rattray transferred after last season. The 6-foot-5 opposite, back from a recent ankle injury, is second on No. 4 UCLA’s team in kills with 129 (a team-high 3.58/set), is third in aces with 12, third in digs with 1.25/set, and has 16 blocks, one solo.
“I wasn’t getting the opportunity that I thought I deserved out there,” Rattray said of Hawai’i. “Big props to everyone out there in Hawai’i, because I wouldn’t be the player I am today if not for the three years I had out in Hawai’i.”
But he didn’t play much. Rattray redshirted as a freshman. In 2017, he played in five matches and last year played in 12.
“Not getting opportunity gave me extra motivation to work hard every day, in the weight room and the practice gym, a big thank you to all my coaches out in Hawai’i, my teammates, mahalo and aloha to all of them.”
UCLA coach John Speraw had plenty of mahalo for getting Rattray.
“Brandon has one of the best arms that I’ve ever coached,here, or at the national team level,” said Speraw, also the USA national-team coach. “He has a world-class arm. I think his upside is pretty tremendous.
“This is his first opportunity to compete consistently, and there’s a lot of growth that will come from that experience.”
Speraw said the product of the Seaside Volleyball Club is still improving.
“He’s proven to be a pretty coachable guy,” Speraw said. “He’s improved his blocking. We’ve changed some of his mechanics on the serve, and he seem to be getting a little more consistent with that, so I’m optimistic that there’s other areas of his game that we can continue to improve, and that he’ll be a tremendous asset for us by the end of the season.”
Ma’a loves to set him.
“A lot teams commit to our middles, and if they’re going to leave him open, he can terminate. I think he’s got the best arm in the country. He hammers it,” Ma’a said. “I’ve never seen someone hit as hard as Brandon.
“He brings a lot on that right side. He brings it at the service line, he can touch a lot of balls at the net, he helps us everywhere. He’s huge for our team.”
“Micah and I, we’ve been working really hard together over the fall, and have built something special,” Rattray said. “The tempo that we run is hard to stop. He’s been pushing it really hard with me, trying to get this connection going.”
And he and Kay, now roommates, might even be bringing a new mascot to the mix.
They’ve adopted a wild squirrel.
“There are a lot of squirrels around our apartment and we tried to feed them,” Rattray said, “but they just weren’t having any of it.”
Except for a squirrel that they named Nuts.
“We named her Nuts because she loves nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, and cashews. If you give her almonds she’ll go outside and hide some for later.”
Befriending Nuts was a process.
“First, she would come into the apartment for food that was left for her, but now she comes inside to hang with us on the sofa. The funniest thing is how she eats apples. She’ll grab the apple with her front paws, rear back on her hind legs and just destroy the apple.”
UCLA is 10-4 overall, coming off a non-conference loss to top-ranked Long Beach State, the second time the Bruins have lost to the defending NCAA champions this season. But UCLA is 2-0 in the MPSF and is back in action Wednesday at Concordia before playing host to USC on Sunday.
Rattray is not the only transfer. Junior outside hitter Austin Matautia (101 kills, 2.15/set) also came from Hawai’i and UCLA has a freshman libero in Cole Pender.
“We’re still tweaking some things, but you’re going to have to do that with any hitter. Everyone’s still a work in progress,” Ma’a said.
“We need to expect that we’re not firing on all cylinders yet. We have a lot of talent, we have a lot of arms, a lot of skill, and because of that, we always expect to make the right play. We’re working on understanding that it’s a process, some other teams have had a core group a lot longer than us.
“We have to understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, we’re just trying to get better every day. We know that it won’t be our best ball in February, maybe even in March, but we’ll be ready come April and May.”
Rattray is confident that the Bruins, who also lost to UC Santa Barbara and CSUN, will be ready later in the season.
“These experiences at CSUN, against Long Beach, they’re great for us because we’ve figured out what to do,” Rattray said.
“Most of the teams are capped out on their level of play, and we’re slowly coming up and creeping for them, so sooner or later we’ll be right there with them, and we’ll push past.”
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