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UCLA men’s volleyball wins against Pepperdine in first match of doubleheader

Ethan Champlin goes up for a kill. The junior outside hitter notched a career-high 19 on Thursday night. (Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)

Men's Volleyball

No. 2 UCLA3
No. 9 Pepperdine1

By Ira Gorawara

April 14, 2023 5:35 p.m.

Facing their final MPSF contenders, the Bruins rallied their way to victory.

Exactly a week away from the MPSF semi-finals, No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (26-2, 11-0 MPSF) traveled up to Malibu to meet No. 9 Pepperdine (16-12, 5-6), its final contender of the regular season. The 3-1 win that followed gave the Bruins a victory against every team in the conference.

Following a similar pattern from the Bruins’ past few contests, the first set saw six lead changes and 18 ties as a back-and-forth rally gave neither team control. A pocket of hope emerged for the Bruins as a Waves attack error gave the former their largest lead of the night to that point at 15-11.

Errors from UCLA’s end crushed its lead, keeping a one-point margin for the remainder of the frame. In what became their highest-scoring set of the season, the Bruins ultimately fell to the Waves by two points in a 30-32 decision.

“We definitely had a number of unforced hitting errors that are not very common for us,” said coach John Speraw. “The unforced errors allowed them to score a bunch of points and keep it close. We certainly had some chances, some set points, and didn’t capitalize.”

Senior outside hitter Alex Knight and junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin combined for 10 kills in just the first set, over half of the team’s total at 17.

With 10 kills and six blocks by the game’s end, Knight showed up both offensively and defensively for the blue and gold. He pointed to Pepperdine outside hitter Jaylen Jasper as his motivator Thursday night.

“I knew I had a big job blocking Jaylen Jasper,” Knight said. “Over the years I’ve had his number in my mind and I truly want to block that guy, so that was my extra motivation going into tonight, so I’m glad the team executed on him.”

(Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Senior outside hitter Alex Knight goes up for a block. Knight totaled six on the night against Pepperdine on Thursday. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Speraw said Knight has executed on all components of the floor this season.

“His ability to attack the ball has been really impressive and his numbers have been great,” Speraw said. “He continues to improve as the season progresses. He passes the ball well for us and he continues to improve his serving and he does some good stuff, so he’s turned into a very complete volleyball player for us.”

As if there was no intermission, the second set picked up where the first left off. Jasper added four more kills early, but a kill from nearly every Bruin and repeated errors by the Waves kept the squads within a whisker of one another.

UCLA and Pepperdine accumulated a combined 15 ties and five lead changes in the second set.

With 21 points apiece, the blue and gold took matters into its own hands, spurring a 4-0 run to get back in the game. Forcing two attack errors and executing offensively with a kill and an ace, the Bruins tied the match at one set each and ensured the contest would go four sets deep.

“Speraw told us to get some real energy late in the set, hoping to put them away,” Champlin said. “It required us to be more energetic, more charismatic, more enthusiastic about playing volleyball. Getting those points down the scratch helped that energy.”

Champlin put up a career-high 19 kills off an efficient .484 clip. Pacing the offensive attack, Champlin said he recognized his connection with freshman setter Andrew Rowan and the team’s hitters as crucial to his performance throughout the season.

“I’ve been working on some things with myself, which requires working on things with Andrew,” Champlin said. “It’s a little sketchy to do at this point in the season but it’s what it takes to come and win. It’s a pass-hit-kill, it’s a team sport, and Andrew set me up well. Troy and Alex did really well at passing so it was obviously a team effort.”

The fourth and final set of the game was parallel to the others. The blue and gold found a six-point lead around the middle of the set, only for it to quickly dissipate thanks to another Pepperdine run. The set returned to a two-point margin but ultimately the Bruins found their way out, capturing their seventh straight win.

Champlin said he is looking forward to the battle and grit the Waves will show up with during the second part of the doubleheader Saturday.

“They really have nothing to lose on Saturday,” Champlin said. “This is what teams have against UCLA, and they always put up their best games. We’re ready for the battle.”

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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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