Waves crash in neck-and-neck match against UCLA men’s volleyball
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Merrick McHenry goes up for an attack against No. 8 Pepperdine middle blocker Austin Wilmot on Thursday. McHenry collected seven kills and a season-high seven block assists in the sweep. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)
|No. 1 UCLA||3|
|No. 8 Pepperdine||0|
By Abigail Siatkowski
April 8, 2022 3:08 p.m.
MALIBU – The Bruins swept the Waves, but not without a fight.
No. 1 UCLA men’s volleyball (18-3, 8-1 MPSF) secured a 3-0 victory against No. 8 Pepperdine (14-8, 5-4) at the Firestone Fieldhouse on Thursday evening. Though the Bruins won the match, they faced five lead changes, 16 ties and a second set that ran into overtime.
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Merrick McHenry said Pepperdine brought its best in the intermediate frame.
“They (the Waves) were playing really well,” McHenry said, “I think they didn’t want to lose on their home court.”
On the verge of falling behind two sets to none, the Waves opened the second period with a 4-1 run – their largest lead of the match at that point. The Bruins would sit below their opponent for 22 of the first 23 rallies, the lone exception being a 1-all tie to start the frame.
After trailing by as much as four points, UCLA took its first lead of the set at 14-13. From that point onwards, neither team could muster a lead greater than two, with the Bruins finding themselves at set point on six separate occasions.
“That was a point in the match where they (the Waves) played their best and they kept siding out on us and they honestly made it really hard for us to pull it out,” McHenry said.
Sophomore setter/opposite Miles Partain eventually secured the final serve of the set, and a kill from sophomore outside hitter Ethan Champlin rounded out the frame with a 30-28 victory for the Bruins.
“We just had to make sure we played one point at a time and were ready for them to battle,” Champlin said.
As in the end of the second set, the two teams traded points to begin the opening period. Despite having its lead shaved down to one point on four instances, UCLA staved off Pepperdine for the entire frame.
The Bruins were paced by Champlin’s seven first-set kills. Champlin also saw a run of four successful serves in a row, including an ace, increasing the Bruins’ lead from two points to six.
Coach John Speraw said Champlin’s team-high 12 kills were one of the highlights of the game
“We adapted pretty well, obviously tonight our block worked but so did Champ’s (Champlin’s) offense,” Speraw said.
After racing to a victory in the opening frame and coming out of the multi-set point second period, Speraw said the Bruins switched gears in the third period.
“When you have a significant due set that goes into overtime the previous set there’s a little bit of an emotional shift,” Speraw said.
UCLA started the frame in the same vein as the first one, earning the opening point. After the second rally, the blue and gold maintained the advantage for the entirety of the set. Although the Waves challenged the final point of the contest, the referees ultimately decided to stick with their original call, giving the Bruins their third set victory with a score of 25-22.
The third frame also saw three block assists from McHenry, who finished Thursday’s victory with a match-high seven in the statistic. As a team, the Bruins secured a season-high of 15.5 blocks, beating their previous high of 14 earned both against Grand Canyon on March 3 and against Stanford on March 12.
McHenry said the team had been working on its blocks during practice in preparation for Thursday’s contest, a strategy he said proved pivotal in the win.
“Our blocking really set us apart in this match,” McHenry said. “Once you start blocking teams a lot, they start to feel suffocated.”
Speraw said he felt proud that his team did not give up their one-point lead in the second set and was pleased with the results of the match.
“It was a great match,” Speraw said. “(I’m) happy to get a big win here. And now we know that they are (Pepperdine is) going to play better next time we see them on Saturday in Pauley (Pavilion).”
The Bruins will close out their home-and-home series with the Waves on Saturday at 6 p.m.