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UCLA men’s volleyball claims victory over Princeton’s trash-talking Tigers

The Bruins look on during a point. UCLA men’s volleyball bounced back from a set deficit to take the match 3-1. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

By Bryan Palmero

Jan. 14, 2023 4:26 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 16 at 11:11 p.m.

Amid squeaks and shouts on the court, everyone could hear the Tigers’ bench.

Their presence reverberated throughout the John Wooden Center – a gymnasium smaller than the Bruins’ usual home venue in Pauley Pavilion.

They recited memes, choreographed sarcastic reactions and constantly applauded themselves. They all roared in unison whenever their opponent failed to score.

Bizarrely, they cheered even when they themselves faltered.

The match, just like the trash talk, was unexpected – junior outside hitter and All-American Ethan Champlin finished with more errors than kills, the No. 2 blue and gold dropped the opening set to the unranked Tigers, the indoor contest was rescheduled to Friday to avoid the forecasted rain.

Yet irony still held true, huzzahs and all, as No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (4-0) overcame its early frame deficit to cruise to a 22-25, 25-18, 25-20, 25-14 triumph over Princeton (1-3) and its animated bench.

“It was funny. I mean, that’s their thing,” said senior outside hitter Alex Knight. “But it’s good for us to reset mentally when they do that, because we don’t want them to get in our heads.”

But the Tigers initially did just that.

Knight was blocked on a swing and hit -.333 in the opening set, his teammates doing marginally better at 0.95 for the frame. Junior setter/opposite Miles Partain put up five assists to the opposing setter’s 11. Princeton outside hitter/opposite James Hartley served shots at Champlin and redshirt senior libero Troy Gooch, but neither player could corral the ball on each occasion.

Hartley collected his two victims, and three total service aces in the frame, while the blue and gold couldn’t escape a set seeing 13 ties and seven lead changes.

“They came out and they played with a lot of excitement and energy,” said coach John Speraw. “And they served the ball really, really hard.”

A 5-2 Bruin advantage evaporated into a four point deficit, before becoming a 25-22 defeat and 1-0 hole. And through it all, the Tigers were cheering, dancing and audibly having fun.

(Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)
The Princeton bench celebrates after a point. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

But Speraw said UCLA had nothing to worry about.

“Definitely no panic,” Speraw said. “When we saw how we responded, there was no panic.”

That response came in the form of a different offense.

The Bruins attacked with tips and rolls. Partain caught the Tigers off guard with dumps and timely sets to his teammates. By the end of the second period, the reigning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year paced his team with five kills and UCLA tied things up, riding on the momentum for the rest of the match.

Partain contributed a career-best seven kills and dished out 21 assists without starting the fourth set, freshman Andrew Rowan in his place after a rare late-match substitution by Speraw.

Rowan, recently removed from a six service ace showing against UC San Diego last weekend, tallied three more aces Friday. The freshman mainstay on a lineup dominated by upperclassmen anchored a five-point run with his aces in his first home match with the blue and gold.

“I appreciate coach trusting me to get out there and make a serve and try to make an impact in the game,” Rowan said. “I just go up and hit it as hard as I can.”

Knight rebounded by posting a contest-high-tying 13 kills on a .400 hitting percentage with six total blocks. Taking on a larger-than-normal attacking role, Partain also found himself buoying the Bruins’ back row defense alongside Gooch, with each player hauling in eight digs.

The Tigers only swung for four more aces in the final three sets and mustered an overall .173 hitting percentage.

While Princeton still loudly and proudly kept its heads up high with joy, UCLA could lay claim to something better: a win.

“This was another example of some nice poise when a team comes in excited to play you,” Speraw said.

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Bryan Palmero | Daily Bruin senior staff
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a Sports reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student.
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a Sports reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student.
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