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UCLA men’s volleyball serves Stanford a doubleheader sweep with a side of revenge

The team goes in for a hug after a point. To avenge their Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament loss in 2022, the Bruins swept both matches against conference foe Stanford on Friday and Saturday. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's Volleyball

No. 3 UCLA3
No. 10 Stanford0
No. 3 UCLA3
No. 10 Stanford0

By Ira Gorawara

March 19, 2023 2:41 p.m.

The Bruins forced the Cardinal to post a negative hit percentage on their scorecard for the first time more than six years.

After conceding a semifinal loss last season and subsequently being eliminated from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, the blue and gold was in pursuit of revenge. In this year’s rematch, No. 3 UCLA men’s volleyball (21-2, 6-0 MPSF) swept all six sets in its doubleheader against No. 10 Stanford (9-10, 2-4) on Friday and Saturday.

[Related: UCLA men’s volleyball seeks revenge for 2022 MPSF loss with Stanford doubleheader]

The postseason loss against the Cardinal came soon after a regular-season loss in 2022 when the Bruins dropped a five-set decision. With both dropped matches on its mind, UCLA entered its doubleheader with vengeance as its motivator, according to redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry.

“We definitely played with a chip on our shoulders, and we definitely wanted to be the aggressors, and we didn’t want them to come in and put a lot of pressure on us,” McHenry said. “We came in with a different mindset because they upset us last year, so it was definitely a rematch in our eyes.”

McHenry hit at an efficient .667 and .455 clip in the two contests on top of a strong defensive performance in which he tallied six blocks and two digs in Friday’s 25-12, 25-12, 25-12 win.

The middle blocker said his recent success on all components of the game is a testament to a change in his mindset.

“I’m starting to get more and more comfortable, and I would say I’m thinking a lot less when I’m playing,” McHenry said. “I’m not thinking about my attacking, I’m just doing it, and I’m definitely playing more free and enjoying myself.”

An impressive serving performance from the redshirt junior saw just one hitting error across both matchups as well as six service aces. Overall, McHenry proved crucial in limiting the Cardinal to a -0.076 hit percentage in the first matchup, their lowest in over six years of play.

McHenry’s performance against Stanford was enough to grant him coach John Speraw’s player of the week label.

“It was a very complete two games from Merrick, almost player of the week status for him,” Speraw said. “He really was a factor at the net, did an outstanding job of blocking the ball, and his serve put pressure on them the entire weekend. He didn’t get into too many ruts of errors and just kept bombing.”

(Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Merrick McHenry elevates for a kill. The redshirt junior middle blocker helped lead UCLA to its season sweep over Stanford with six service aces and 10 kills through both matches. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Mimicking McHenry’s approach to the game, sophomore outside hitter/opposite Ido David said he recognized his relaxed mindset on the court as a contributing factor to his team-high offensive performances in the last two games. In the first and second matchups, David put up 12 and 10 kills, respectively, as well as 10 total digs and six total blocks in the series.

“I just played free, and things worked out for me,” David said. “I just played loose, played point-by-point, didn’t think too much and didn’t put pressure. It was just going free, trying new stuff and doing whatever I wanted.

Stanford’s negative hit percentage reached as low as -0.130 in the second frame and was a measure of all but two players hitting in the positives.

“We made sure that if they were getting a kill, it would have to be in a different way and a way that wasn’t their favorite,” McHenry said. “It’s a mental block to not be able to get a kill, so it’s something we want to be able to do to other teams. So we make it so much more of a mental game for them while we’re just playing volleyball and having fun.”

Despite the six-set sweep of the doubleheader, the Cardinal didn’t let the Bruins clinch an easy win in the second of the two matchups. After a substandard performance during game one which had the scorecard seeing triple, the Cardinal conceded a smaller defeat in game two, with scores of 25-18, 25-21 and 21-20.

With 13 crucial kills through the two matches, Stanford outside hitter Kevin Lamp put pressure on the blue and gold defense and had a night for himself on the service and attacking side on Saturday, according to McHenry.

“They played a lot better than they did last night (Friday), and after we spanked them last night, they came in with a little bit of a ‘that’s not gonna happen again’ mindset,” McHenry said. “Kevin Lamp had a great night serving and attacking, so I think they came in a little bit more aggressive and gave us more of a challenge and battle tonight.”

Playing just three more conference opponents before the kickoff of the 2023 MPSF tournament, the blue and gold are slotted at No. 1 in the conference ahead of another doubleheader of ranked matchups.

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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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