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UCLA men’s volleyball dominates Asics Invitational, starting season undefeated

Junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin hits the ball while the team watches on. Champlin led the Bruins to a sweep of the Acics Tournament from Thursday to Saturday, notching 22 kills overall alongside All-Tournament MVP honors. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Volleyball

No. 2 UCLA3
Cal State Northridge0
No. 2 UCLA3
UC San Diego0
No. 2 UCLA3
No. 7 UC Santa Barbara0

By Amelie Ionescu

Jan. 9, 2023 2:05 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 11 at 12:11 a.m.

The Bruins maintained their undefeated start to the campaign behind a trio of sweeps.

No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (3-0) officially began its season with three wins that took only nine sets at the UC Santa Barbara Asics Tournament, sweeping Cal State Northridge (1-2), UC San Diego (1-2) and No. 7 UCSB (1-2) from Thursday to Saturday. The matches showcased the Bruins’ depth, with 14 members of the team taking the court over the course of the three days.

“I was really pleased with the contributions of everybody and the general level of play for this time of the year,” said coach John Speraw. “There’s obviously lots of things that we saw that we need to improve, but we came away without dropping a set, so that’s a nice way to start off a season.”

Led by junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin, who hit 12 kills at a .706 clip with no errors, UCLA persevered past CSUN on Thursday.

Redshirt senior libero Troy Gooch joined five returning starters in his UCLA debut, cementing his place in the lineup with an All-Tournament Team nomination and 17 digs throughout the three matches. Gooch was previously a three-year starter at Purdue Fort Wayne and brings an American Volleyball Coaches Association honorable mention All-America selection to Westwood.

Gooch said he’s growing accustomed to taking a familiar role on an unfamiliar team, using skills learned in the past to connect with the already experienced Bruin squad.

“It’s been really exciting being a Bruin and it’s something I’m really grateful for,” Gooch said. “Something that I have taken that I’ve learned in the past four years is grit and embracing the libero position. Just being very loud, having a lot of energy on the court and being very communicative with the guys.”

After its trouncing of CSUN, six new faces started for UCLA on Friday as the Bruins out-aced the Tritons 18-2, tying the all-time MPSF record for aces in a match for the second year in a row. Gooch was the only constant in the starting lineup as UCLA outhit, out-assisted and out-blocked UCSD.

Freshman setter Andrew Rowan led a group of six Bruins that garnered multiple aces, notching six of his own. Senior outside hitter/opposite Cole Ketrzynski led the Bruins with nine kills in his first appearance of the season.

“In that match we were confident to roll out an entirely different group knowing that they were fully capable of winning an important match and they did, and did so soundly,” Speraw said. “We have a lot of players that can go out and win big matches.”

In addition to Gooch, three other players who took the court against UCSD also saw playing time against both CSUN and UCSB.

As UCLA returned to its usual lineup against its only ranked opponent of the tournament, Champlin once again paced the Bruins with 10 kills and three aces at a .500 clip.

The first set against UCSB on Saturday proved to be UCLA’s most tumultuous of the young season, as the blue and gold waited until halfway through the first set to nab the lead before battling to the tune of 12 ties and four lead changes through the rest of the set. Down one at set point, Champlin proved his tournament MVP status, notching two kills in the next three points to give UCLA the set.

Champlin credited his standout performance to his chemistry with his team.

“First, I got to give credit to (junior setter/outside hitter) Miles (Partain) and also our passers – everybody on the court,” Champlin said. “We have so many threats that blockers aren’t able to exactly commit to any player, … so just a lot of threats that are able to open me up.”

And with the Gauchos’ strong first set brought to a close, the Bruins never let up in the second and third, surging to advantages in both. For the third straight time, the blue and gold outhit its opponent, holding UCSB to .082 while hitting at .424.

“The first set they came out bombing some balls and we had to be really persistent,” Gooch said. “I think as sets two and three went on it really showed how much we out-served and out-passed them, so that was really good for the team.”

Despite emerging victorious in their first tournament of the year, the Bruins have a long road to victory in their last. And, according to Gooch, success for the team will come in the form of preparation for what’s ahead.

“We have a target on our back, no matter who we play,” Gooch said. “Everybody’s going to come out fueled up to play UCLA. … That’s something we need to be prepared for.”

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Amelie Ionescu | Sports senior staff
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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