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UCLA men’s volleyball beached in NCAA tournament semifinals

Sophomore outside hitter Ethan Champlin goes up for an attack against No. 1 seed Long Beach State on Thursday. UCLA men’s volleyball fell victim to a reverse sweep defeat, ending its season in the NCAA tournament semifinals. (Patrick Shao/Daily Bruin)

men’s volleyball

No. 1 seed Long Beach State3

By David Deng

May 5, 2022 8:06 p.m.

This post was updated May 8 at 11:10 p.m.

The Bruins once again had their national championship aspirations dashed by the Beach.

UCLA men’s volleyball (22-5, 11-1 MPSF) fell to No. 1 seed Long Beach State (21-5, 8-2 Big West) in five sets in the National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship semifinal on Thursday evening. The result was a repeat of the 2018 NCAA championship final, held on the same day four years earlier.

The Bruins struck first in set one, never trailing beyond the first point. UCLA hit .400, holding AVCA National Player of the Year and outside hitter Alex Nikolov to a .167 hitting percentage. No Long Beach State player tallied more than two kills in the frame, while sophomore outside hitter Ethan Champlin put up four along with three kills apiece from redshirt freshman middle blocker Guy Genis and junior outside hitter Alex Knight.

The blue and gold had a sideout percentage of 94% in the opening frame, recording a point off 17 of the Beach’s 18 serves. Nikolov, the nation’s leader in service aces, recorded two errors and no service aces, while UCLA had three aces.

Behind kills from Champlin and redshirt junior opposite Kevin Kobrine, the Bruins raced to a 10-5 advantage in the second set. Long Beach State used two 3-0 runs to pull within a point at 13-12, with Nikolov recording five kills in the spurt. UCLA would pull away, however, with two kills and an ace from Champlin and kills from Knight, Genis and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Merrick McHenry.

Champlin finished the match with a team-high 13 kills to go with three aces.

Both of the opening two sets would conclude 25-18 in the Bruins’ favor, with Knight claiming the game-winning kill on the latter frame.

“We served really, really well and got them out of system (in the first two sets),” said coach John Speraw. “(We) got a bunch of early aces, which is tough to do against Long Beach.”

In the third frame, the Beach’s offense would come alive to the tune of a .591 hitting percentage, buoyed by six kills from Nikolov. Long Beach State scored the first four points of the set, sparked by a pair of Nikolov kills and the team’s first service ace of the match. The Bruins called timeouts trailing 10-4 and 17-9 but were unable to generate a run of more than two points in a row en route to a 25-15 defeat in which they never held the lead.

The Beach continued their surge in the fourth set, in which they hit .647 to the Bruins’ -.118. After recording six service aces and nine service errors in the first two sets, UCLA recorded zero aces and nine more errors in the next two frames. Long Beach State, on the other hand, tallied zero aces and nine errors in the first two sets, while recording five aces and eight kills in the third and fourth frames.

“At the end of the day, this match was almost entirely about serving and passing,” Speraw said. “We always say that about volleyball, and I think this match really highlighted that.”

UCLA had seven errors to five kills in the entire set, with its 25-10 fourth set loss being its largest margin of defeat in any set this season.

Members of UCLA men’s volleyball walk to the handshake line following their loss to No. 1 seed Long Beach State on Thursday. (Patrick Shao/Daily Bruin)

The two teams traded points for the first 10 rallies of the decisive fifth set before the Bruins broke the stalemate on a ball handling error from Long Beach State setter Aidan Knipes, triggering chants of “You can’t do that” from the UCLA student section. After a brief stoppage to clean the court, the Bruins took a 7-5 lead on Champlin’s third kill of the set, triggering a Beach timeout.

After trading the next four rallies, the Beach tied the set with a block from outside hitter Clarke Godbold. The Bruins responded by substituting in redshirt senior middle blocker J.R. Norris IV, who immediately regained the advantage with a kill. Both teams collected errors before Long Beach State evened the match again at 11 apiece.

With both teams trading scores for another four rallies, Nikolov brought the Beach to match point with a crosscourt kill. Long Beach would miss its next serve before another kill from the national player of the year brought about a second match point at 15-14.

This time, Long Beach State’s opposite Simon Torwie aced UCLA for the fourth time, ending the blue and gold’s season in its home stadium.

Reflecting on his first year as the Bruins’ starting setter, sophomore Miles Partain said the 2022 season was full of growth.

“This year, I learned a lot about communication and believing in (hitters) and giving them confidence,” Partain said. “The best setters managed to keep the energy as high as possible, and I really want to continue to improve there.”

Champlin added that the team became closer as a unit as well.

“As a team, we really grew together and just really loved each other,” Champlin said.  “This year, we’re able to do things outside of volleyball and it really built our team chemistry.”

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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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