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UCLA men’s volleyball has been ‘training all year’ for Long Beach State faceoff

Redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry lines up with his team after last year’s matchup against Long Beach State. The Bruins enter the Thursday matchup looking for vengeance against the squad that knocked them out of the NCAA tournament in 2022. (Patrick Shao/Daily Bruin)

Men's Volleyball

Long Beach State
Thursday, 8 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
Pac-12 Los Angeles
Long Beach State
Friday, 7 p.m.

Long Beach

By Anthony Aroyan

Feb. 7, 2023 9:18 p.m.

For the first time in 2023, the Bruins will take on the team that sent them home a season ago.

As No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball (9-1) returns from its East Coast road trip, it stares down a pair of matchups against No. 2 Long Beach State (6-0) on Thursday at Pauley Pavilion and Friday at Walter Pyramid. Despite taking its first loss of the season on the road against No. 3 Penn State (8-1) on Saturday, the blue and gold will have the chance to find redemption against the team that knocked it out of the NCAA tournament competition in 2022.

“We can’t wait, man – it’s as simple as that,” said freshman setter Andrew Rowan. “We’ve been training all year for this. … We want the competition.”

While the team did lose its last contest, coach John Speraw maintained the importance of the three-game road trip out east as a learning experience.

According to Speraw, the defeat provided further insight into the status of his squad compared to the competition.

“I knew that this weekend would be good for us to be playing better teams,” Speraw said. “Now we know where we’re at.”

Looking toward the future, Speraw said he is stressing the importance of refinement and ironing out some of the mistakes being made on the court, especially in comparison to the team’s cohesion at the end of the fall.

UCLA ranks in the top 10 nationally in several categories going into the doubleheader against Long Beach State. Standout areas for the Bruins include ranking third overall in aces per set with 2.21 and ranking sixth overall in hitting percentage at .361.

On an individual level, rotations in the lineup within and between matches have allowed for different players to step in and do their part when the need arises. However, as of late, two players who have cemented themselves as crucial offensive pieces for the blue and gold are sophomore outside hitter Ido David and redshirt senior middle blocker J.R. Norris IV.

David led the team in kills with 39 on the road trip, and Norris was named National Middle Attacker of the Week by Off the Block for his efforts over the weekend.

One challenge for the Bruins that could present itself against Long Beach State is the increased rotation of setters in the lineup. Currently, the team’s two primary setters are Rowan and junior setter/opposite Miles Partain.

Freshman Andrew Rowan goes up for a one-handed set. Rowan took the role of starting setter in UCLA’s matchup against Penn State and has been trading off with junior Miles Partain for the role since the beginning of the season, currently leading the team with 181 assists. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

“They’re different setters. They take the ball from different places, their release time is a little bit different,” said redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry. “It is definitely an adjustment, and it’s something we’re working on.”

For Speraw, the depth of the squad has been a regular talking point throughout the season, but he also said the possibility of a more consistent lineup going forward will be something to consider.

“That is a topic for us,” Speraw said. “We have a lot of depth, but at what point do you make some decisions about what you’re going to do? I think we’re getting really close.”

The Bruins will open the back-to-back in Pauley Pavilion at 8 p.m. on Thursday before traveling to Walter Pyramid for a 7 p.m. matchup Friday.

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Anthony Aroyan
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