George Mason University's men's volleyball team begins its quest for a national championship Friday when the Patriots host defending NCAA champion UCLA.

All tickets for the season-opening match against the Bruins at George Mason Gymnasium have been sold.

Ranked third in the nation last year and fifth in preseason polls this season, GMU faces second-ranked UCLA for the first time ever.

"We've put it all together to become a force in the East," said George Mason Coach Wayne Stalick, whose club is the only top-five team outside of California.

Stalick, named East Coast Volleyball League coach of the year for the past two seasons, formed a team at Mason in 1975 and has led the Patriots into postseason play every year, compliling a 285-118 record.

Nationally ranked for the first time in 1983, Mason placed second in the ECVL a year ago. The Patriots lost to Pepperdine, 15-12, 15-5, 15-13, in the NCAA tournament semifinals, but beat Ball State in the consolation match, 15-6, 19-17, 15-9, and finished at 29-4.

The Patriots will be playing a team that has lost five starters -- three of them all-Americas. UCLA has won 11 NCAA championships, including the last four. Coach Al Scates has compiled a 573-71 record since 1963.

"They've got better players sitting on their bench than 98 percent of other teams have starting," Stalick said.

Mason's returning starters include 6-foot-6 sophomore Moyo Kasim; 6-4 junior Jon Henwood; four-year starter Scott Graf, a 6-5 senior; and 5-10 Ric Lucas, a graduate engineering student. Dale Whitmer, a 6-1 sophomore, and 6-7 freshman Mike Schwob probably will round out the starting team.

Stalick plans to use Lucas and Whitmer as the setters with Graf and Schwob playing the middle attacker positions and Henwood and Kasim as power hitters.

Kasim played on the Nigerian national volleyball team for two years and played basketball at the state level with his friend, Akeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets.