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UCLA men’s volleyball barrels toward victory in matchup against Pepperdine

Redshirt junior outside hitter Sam Burgi (right) celebrates with UCLA men’s volleyball during its NCAA tournament match against Pepperdine on Tuesday. Making his first-ever postseason appearance, Burgi entered the second set of the opening round and finished with six kills, including the set-winning score in the third frame. (Patrick Shao/Daily Bruin)

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By Leila Bivins

May 3, 2022 7:51 p.m.

This post was updated May 3 at 8:32 p.m.

With zero postseason appearances to his name, Sam Burgi entered the second set of an NCAA tournament match. 

Following his substitution, the redshirt junior outside hitter would remain in the contest – and cap off the third set. 

“Burgi goes down the list as big-time performances from guys coming off the bench when it matters most,” said coach John Speraw. “I had 100% confidence in him to do it.”

Behind Burgi’s third appearance of the season and six kills, UCLA men’s volleyball (22-4, 11-2 MPSF) defeated Pepperdine (19-10, 7-5) in the quarterfinals of the National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship in a four-set match Tuesday evening.

In the third set, redshirt junior outside hitter Kevin Kobrine tied the score at 13-13 with a kill that spiraled into the stands, but UCLA could not take the lead after a service error. The Bruins tallied eight service errors in the third period after limiting such errors to within five in both the first and second frames. 

Behind sophomore outside hitter Ethan Champlin’s third service error of the match, Pepperdine regained possession of the ball with the score tied 23-all. Despite the service errors, a kill from Burgi helped UCLA emerge victorious 26-24 to go up two sets to none.

Coming from a competitive club team, Burgi said he is used to fighting for his playing time. Burgi would close out the match for the Bruins, doubling his total playing time on the year Tuesday.

“I’m pretty comfortable where I am on the bench,” Burgi said. “Having to come in and just battle for a position – I think it’s fun, I think it’s a part of the competition.”

Punctuating a four-point run in the opening set, redshirt freshman middle blocker Guy Genis knocked down an ace to give the Bruins a five-point lead and force the Waves to call an early timeout. Another Genis stint at the service line 15 rallies later ballooned the score to 16-10.

UCLA maintained a lead of at least three points until a Genis attack error brought the score to 20-18 and led to a Bruin timeout. After two aces and a kill, Pepperdine knotted the set at 23-23 – the first tie of the match – and forced the second UCLA timeout of the set. 

The Bruins took back the lead off an assisted block by redshirt sophomore middle blocker Merrick McHenry, Champlin and sophomore setter/opposite hitter Miles Partain. Pushed to set point, the Waves committed a net violation to give the blue and gold the 25-23 opening frame victory.

McHenry, who tallied six total blocks and seven kills Tuesday, said he would have been satisfied no matter the outcome of the match. 

“This moment’s kind of do-or-die,” McHenry said. “So no matter what would have happened tonight, I would have been that guy and I would have brought that energy and, you know, had a smile on my face.”

Churning out a four-point run – including three kills – Pepperdine took its first lead of the match in the second set. After trailing by two, UCLA would tie the score twice more before the 10th rally. Behind one of outside hitter Alex Gettinger’s team-high five kills in the set, the Waves pushed their advantage to three and the Bruins took another timeout.

With Pepperdine up 11-9, freshman outside hitter Grant Sloane entered the match for junior outside hitter Alex Knight. A kill by Sloane tied the set at 14-all and brought the freshman outside hitter to the service line. The Waves followed up Sloane’s serve with an attack, only for it to ricochet off the freshman outside hitter’s head and land in their backcourt for the Bruins’ second lead of the set.

“The success we had with everybody coming off the bench and contributing was a significant example of the depth and talent that we’ve had,” Speraw said.

Burgi was substituted in for Kobrine in the second frame. One play after his substitution, Burgi tallied his first-ever postseason kill to shave the Bruins’ deficit to two.

After two Pepperdine attack errors, the set was briefly tied at 20-all. Kobrine rallied UCLA to 22 points with his team’s final two kills, but he committed a service error to ultimately give the visitors the 25-22 second period win.

Following a .091 hitting performance in the opening frame, the Waves rebounded to tally a .391 clip in the second. The Bruins struggled to hold on to a lead in this set, a frame featuring nine ties in comparison to one in the first period.

Following a tie at one-all, UCLA maintained the lead for the remainder of the fourth set. The block by redshirt senior middle blocker J.R. Norris IV put the Bruins at a 20-16 advantage. Norris closed the fourth set with a service ace to advance UCLA to the semifinals. 

The blue and gold will face No. 1 seed Long Beach State on May 5.

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Leila Bivins | Sports contributor
Bivins is currently a Sports contributor on the men's volleyball beat.
Bivins is currently a Sports contributor on the men's volleyball beat.
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