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UCLA men’s volleyball marshals offensive strength before matches against Concordia

Players celebrate after a point. The Bruins swept the season series against UC Irvine last weekend before reentering conference play Wednesday. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Men's Volleyball

Concordia University Irvine
Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
UCLA live stream
Concordia University Irvine
Friday, 7 p.m.

CU Arena
No TV info

By Anthony Aroyan

March 1, 2023 2:03 p.m.

As the Bruins emerge from a pair of top-10 matchups against UC Irvine, they will prepare for a return to conference play.

No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (15-1, 2-0 MPSF) will matchup against Concordia University Irvine (5-9, 0-2) at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday before heading on the road for the second half of the doubleheader Friday. The contest marks the final slate of conference play before the Outrigger Volleyball Invitational in Hawaii, where the Bruins will face Penn State – the only team to beat them this season – as well as No. 1 Hawai’i.

Leading up to the Wednesday match, coach John Speraw emphasized the strengths of his team’s upcoming opponent on the defensive end.

“They can play really good defense,” Speraw said. “They’re very well-coached. Riley Salman is an outstanding coach.”

The offensive groundwork for the matches against Concordia will revolve around the variety of offensive weapons on the blue and gold’s roster. When facing UCI last weekend, the offensive leaders for the Bruins were senior outside hitter Alex Knight and redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry.

Knight tied his career high in kills against UCI during the Friday matchup with 15. McHenry followed up that performance with 15 of his own Sunday and was named the Off the Block National Co-Middle Attacker of the Week for his performances, hitting above .500 in both matchups.

“I was ultimately just trying to be the best teammate I could be,” McHenry said. “A lot of that just has to do with me playing free.”

Statistically, the Bruins remain at or near the top of the national rankings in several categories. The team moved up to first in the nation in hitting percentage at .379, fourth in aces per set at 2.02 and third in assists per set at 12.11.

An important focal point for the improved hitting and service numbers for UCLA comes from the contributions of freshman setter Andrew Rowan. Since Rowan took the starting role on the team, the team is hitting .393, and Rowan himself has tallied an ace in his last five matches.

But junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin said the squad isn’t focused on individual acclaim. Champlin noted that the focus is on navigating a demanding schedule ahead.

“The rest of our schedule is pretty tough,” Champlin said. “Every win that you come by is a good one, so getting that win is a good feeling.”

Regardless of the opponent or the importance of the match, the players are committed to focusing on themselves and improving their own cohesion as a unit.

“It really is just about us honing in on our craft,” McHenry said. “It’s all about, ‘How can we on our side get better?'”

UCLA will host Concordia at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday at 7 p.m. before traveling to Irvine to play at the CU Arena on Friday.

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Anthony Aroyan
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