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Coach John Speraw secures 200th victory with UCLA men’s volleyball

With a win over UC Irvine on Friday, coach John Speraw earned his 200th career victory with UCLA and his 399th overall as a head coach. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Ira Gorawara

Feb. 25, 2023 4:59 p.m.

Marking John Speraw’s 200th win with the blue and gold – and 399th overall as a head coach – the Bruins came out victorious against his former team.

“Two hundred for me is really about 200 for the program, and that’s all that matters,” Speraw said. “I reflect on what a special experience it has been for me and the gratitude I have to coach at UCLA and be around people that I have been with over the last decade.”

In the first game of its doubleheader against No. 6 UC Irvine (9-4), No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (14-1) overcame a first-set loss to see a 3-1 triumph over the Anteaters on Friday night at the Bren Events Center. The Bruins’ 14th win of the season gave them a perfect 9-0 record against Big West opponents in 2023.

In preparation for playing the No. 2 team in the country, the Anteaters took the floor with aggression and excitement, according to redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry.

“Teams always have UCLA highlighted on their schedules and a lot of teams want to beat UCLA,” McHenry said. “So in the first set they were super fired up and super excited and their serves were pretty unreal honestly.”

As a result, the Bruins’ execution on the service end started off subpar. Tallying seven service errors in just the first frame, the Bruins were quickly forced to make adjustments to respond to the Anteaters’ play.

“We struggled with our service pressure, and I think we were able to come around from that by settling in a little bit in the second set and realizing that if we want to win, we have to play better than them,” McHenry said. “We have to play our style of volleyball.”

After unsteady play in the first set, the Bruins managed to quickly regroup and seize control of the next three frames. Recognizing the intensity and strength in the Anteaters’ serves early in the match, Speraw and the Bruins reset to adapt to Irvine’s aggression behind the line.

Honing down on their serve and pass, the blue and gold modified its game to halt its opponent’s momentum after the first frame and ultimately totaled 50 assists and 10 service aces throughout the match.

“We struggled receiving the ball the first set, and we steadied out. Some of that was communication, some of that was adapting to what they were doing, some of that was just getting used to the gym,” Speraw said. “Regardless, we did a nice job in passing the ball in the latter part of the match.”

Spearheading the Bruins’ 50 assists was setter Andrew Rowan’s career-high 44. As one of the youngest members of the team – and the only freshman in the starting lineup – he has already summed 376 assists in just 15 contests.

(Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Andrew Rowan sets the ball. The freshman setter notched a career-high 44 assists in the Bruins’ victory over the Anteaters. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

According to his coach, Rowan has shown minimal hesitation or nervousness in his execution when it comes to playing in gyms for the first time. Despite being a freshman on an experienced team, he has made the job of finding his role and understanding his teammates seem effortless, Speraw said.

“This is his first time in this gym, so for him to remain poised and get used to the environment and get better throughout the course of the match is the most notable thing about his performance so far this season,” Speraw said. “It’s also his first time setting this team, and his connections are phenomenal.”

In particular, Rowan and McHenry highlight the Bruins’ offense and continuously demonstrate their connection on the floor.

“Merrick is a beast and so I got to give him the ball as much as I can,” Rowan said. “We work on our connection a lot, and I think it is slowly getting better. And it is something we’re continuing to work on, and it’s in a good spot right now.”

With all 10 of McHenry’s kills coming off Rowan’s assists, the duo’s connection has strengthened through the season as the two have begun to better understand one another’s preferences and tendencies with the ball.

“Rowan and I are able to feed off each other, and when I need something different, he’s more than down to give that to me and vice versa,” McHenry said. “I owe it all to Rowan. We are able to look each other in the eyes during matches when shit hits the fan. I was feeling good tonight but Rowan’s a baller.”

The connection between the freshman and junior was invaluable to the Bruins’ offense, but with the blue and gold’s ability to scrap on defense and block the ball, they proved their depth and capability on all components of the floor. Redshirt senior libero Troy Gooch topped the Bruins with eight digs of his own.

Despite the big win against a top-ranked squad, McHenry reinforced the importance for the Bruins to take their 2023 campaign game by game, point by point and to stay focused on their side of the court.

“We talk about playing one-point volleyball, and we don’t want one match to feel more significant than another or one point to feel more significant than another,” McHenry said. “We’re focused on this point right here and this ball right here.”

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Ira Gorawara | Assistant Sports editor
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
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