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UCLA men’s volleyball becomes 1st team to sweep MPSF regular season in 27 years

The team goes in to celebrate after a point. UCLA’s victory over Pepperdine on Saturday marked the first time since 1996 when an MPSF swept regular-season conference play. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Volleyball

No. 9 Pepperdine1
No. 2 UCLA3

By Amelie Ionescu

April 16, 2023 2:33 p.m.

This post was updated April 16 at 10:36 p.m.

A regular-season crown.

The best record since the turn of the century.

And now, one more honor.

No 2. UCLA men’s volleyball (27-2, 12-0 MPSF) completed the first conference sweep since 1996 with a four-set victory over No. 9 Pepperdine (16-13, 5-7) on Saturday night in front of a tense Pauley Pavilion crowd.

And in the last game before the postseason, UCLA didn’t let a slightly altered starting lineup deter it from picking up a win. Nor did the Bruins allow for a dropped first set to dictate the rest of the match.

“We are UCLA, so everyone’s going to be coming out swinging as hard as they can, playing as hard as they can,” said freshman setter Andrew Rowan. “And that’s something we just got to deal with. And sometimes you just got to let them win a set and just come back and beat the crap out of them. So that’s kind of our game.”

According to redshirt junior Merrick McHenry, the first-set loss demonstrated that the four letters decorating every player’s chest also put a target on their backs, which he took into his own hands to fix.

With a season-high 12 blocks and 14 kills with no errors at a .737 clip, the middle blocker led UCLA to its 27th win of the season, crediting Rowan for the assist.

“I knew I was going to have to turn something on if I wanted to get out of here quickly,” McHenry said. “I just told Rowan, ‘Hey, I’m here mentally. I’m here. My body feels good. So I trust you, you trust me. So let’s go,’ and I think just the relationship I have with Rowan really helps with that.”

(Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin staff)
Freshman setter Andrew Rowan readies the ball for redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry. The duo used its connection to tally 14 kills from McHenry on the night. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin staff)

Redshirt senior J.R. Norris IV notched six kills on eight attempts on the Saturday night celebrating him and three other seniors. Prior to the match, the middle blocker and his graduating teammates were honored in a ceremony with leis and flowers.

In his last match at Pauley, the longest-tenured member of the team entered the match in the second frame, and by trading off with McHenry, helped the team control the last three sets.

Rowan’s connection with his middles proved one of the Bruins’ strongest offensive links of the night, with more than a third of the night’s kills coming from the duo.

“Since day one, me and J.R. have always been able to play with each other, so it’s pretty comfortable, him coming in,” Rowan said. “And the dude’s a beast, so it’s awesome to see him too.”

(Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Redshirt senior middle blocker J.R. Norris IV laughs with his team. Norris got six kills on eight attempts Saturday night in his last game at Pauley Pavilion. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Alongside Norris – and among the “We want Kyle” chants raining down from the crowd – redshirt junior opposite Kyle Vom Steeg entered the match for the Bruins in the fourth set for a point that drew cheers from the onlookers.

Coach John Speraw said the team’s depth has played an integral part in regular-season success – noting that subbing senior outside hitter/opposite Cole Ketrzynski and Vom Steeg in for their last home match was special.

“It has to do with team play,” Speraw said. “The fact that we were as deep as we were this year, that we continued to improve throughout the course of the season in the training environment because of our depth, … this is a complete team performance.”

To emphasize the point, one newer face saw a start in Saturday’s matchup – outside hitter Zach Rama. The freshman struggled statistically in the first set, shaking off the rust of not having played consistently since April 1, then went on to tie a personal-best 12 kills throughout the last three.

Rama also picked up four blocks to add to his team’s total of 16.

But even with the conference sweep complete and now only the 14th program in MPSF history to have a season with 27 or more wins, McHenry said the Bruins aren’t done.

“It was definitely nice to check the first box, I’d say, off on this season,” McHenry said. “And now we get to do the NCAA, conference tournaments and the fun part now, so it was a great win tonight. That’s a really cool stat, and I’m glad to be a part of the team that went the conference regular season undefeated.”

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Amelie Ionescu | Sports senior staff
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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