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UCLA men’s volleyball reflects on starting lineup consistency

Sophomore setter/opposite Miles Partain sets the ball in No. 1 UCLA men’s volleyball’s contest against USC on Saturday. Twelve Bruins took the court in the five-set victory over the Trojans. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin)

By David Deng

April 5, 2022 6:00 p.m.

The Bruins have found their starting lineup.

After consistently shuffling through its starters during the first half of the season, No. 1 UCLA men’s volleyball (17-3, 7-1 MPSF) has used the same starting lineup for seven of its past eight matches, with the only exception being a nonconference showdown against Morehouse on March 25.

The Bruins’ starters are comprised of sophomore Ethan Champlin and junior Alex Knight as outside hitters, redshirt freshman Guy Genis and redshirt sophomore Merrick McHenry occupying the middle blocker spots, redshirt junior Kevin Kobrine at opposite, sophomore Miles Partain at setter and redshirt senior Cole Pender at libero.

Coach John Speraw said he liked the defensive versatility of trotting out a lineup with Knight, Pender and Champlin, a group he said makes up the team’s best passing back row.

“We’ve made some adjustments and training (defensively) quite a bit over the course of the season,” Speraw said. “(Champlin, Pender and Knight) give us the opportunity to set up a diverse offense with their passing.”

Attacking-wise, the lineup boasts the national leader in hitting percentage in McHenry at .535 on 2.09 kills per set, and Genis, who leads the team with 1.03 blocks per match to go with a .529 clip. Champlin leads all starters with 2.59 kills on a .303 hitting percentage.

Spearheading the attacks is Partain, who ranks second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in assists and is the fulcrum for the best hitting team in the conference. Despite the success so far, Partain says there’s still room for growth.

“Goals (for the rest of the season) are to get our serves tough and consistent and just keep working on the hitters’ connections with me,” Partain said.

Kobrine has hit .380 on the season for 2.42 kills per set. The redshirt junior opposite also ranks second in the MPSF in aces per set with 0.63. Speraw praised Kobrine’s improvement from a bench player to a consistent starter since near the end of last season.

“He’s just proven to be a very consistent volleyball player, he makes very few mistakes, is a really good blocker, his serving has improved, his defense has improved,” Speraw said. “He brings a lot of value in different ways when he’s on the court for us.”

Despite adjusting to a new setter, Kobrine said he owes his hitting improvements throughout the season to his on-court chemistry with Partain.

“(The biggest area of development) has just been getting a connection with Miles Partain, our setter,” Kobrine said. “At the beginning of the year, it’s been on and off, but as the season’s progressed, we’ve definitely made giant leaps above.”

With this seven-man starting lineup, UCLA has gone 6-1 since its introduction against Grand Canyon on March 3, dropping only five sets. At the same time, the Bruins have reached into their bench. In a five-set victory against USC on Saturday, 12 different Bruins saw playing time, eight of whom had multiple kills.

“It’s been the deepest team we’ve had in the 10 seasons that I’ve been back,” Speraw said. “This is a lineup we’ve been going with for a while, but we also have a lot of versatility, so we can keep some teams guessing.”

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David Deng | Sports staff
Deng is currently a Sports staffer on the men's volleyball beat. He was previously a reporter on the gymnastics and women's volleyball beat and a contributor on the cross country and track & field beats.
Deng is currently a Sports staffer on the men's volleyball beat. He was previously a reporter on the gymnastics and women's volleyball beat and a contributor on the cross country and track & field beats.
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