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Amy’s Angle: With roster full of revenge-seeking players, UCLA men’s volleyball can win it all

UCLA players gather around coach John Speraw during a match. After amassing the best regular season in the nation, the Bruins will look to do well in the postseason. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Amelie Ionescu

April 17, 2023 2:11 p.m.

This post was updated April 18 at 10:29 p.m.

The name “UCLA men’s volleyball” has become synonymous with coming up short in recent years.

Take last year, for example, when the Bruins were the No. 1 team in the country for weeks on end, hosted the MPSF and NCAA tournaments and led the nation in hitting percentage while sporting five All-Americans.

Once again, take last year when UCLA lost in the semifinals of its conference tournament to a team with a 4-8 MPSF record and left Pauley Pavilion in despair after getting reverse swept in its NCAA semifinal matchup.

(Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)
UCLA players gather to shake hands with Long Beach State after the Bruins got reverse swept by the Beach in last year’s NCAA tournament. (Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor)

So yes, UCLA men’s volleyball has become synonymous with coming up short.

It won’t be for much longer.

Entering this season with a chip on its shoulder, UCLA had Stanford seeing triple as the Bruins swept the No. 8-ranked team, posting a score of 25-12 for each set. Despite the Cardinal’s stronger play the day after, the Bruins wouldn’t budge, completing the season sweep in six sets.

[Related: UCLA men’s volleyball serves Stanford a doubleheader sweep with a side of revenge]

But will a chip be enough?

In 2018, UCLA blew a 2-1 lead to Long Beach State to watch title hopes drift out of reach for the 12th year in a row. In 2022, UCLA got reverse swept in the same venue with the same stakes against the same squad. History repeated itself, and the winningest team in blue and gold history extended its dry spell to 17 years.

While 2022 wasn’t the moment, 2023 argues it’s time.

Despite roster turnover and several hiccups, UCLA is having arguably its best season in over a decade, sporting a 27-2 record and remaining undefeated in conference play.

Even last year, the Bruins split their season series with the Beach and saw a five-set loss to the Cardinal. Six regular-season matches went to five sets in 2022, while only the victory over Penn State holds the same number of sets this time around. A strong start led to a weaker finish last season, but that trend doesn’t appear to be continuing.

Only one player from the 2022 team had experienced the despair from 2018. In 2023, 14 players remember the loss to the Beach just one year prior, with a poster of the point that sealed the deal hanging as a reminder in the locker room.

[Related: Ido David’s 17 kills lead UCLA men’s volleyball to sweep against Long Beach State]

A chip on its shoulder would be putting UCLA’s thirst for a championship lightly.

As the only team to sweep conference play since 1996, UCLA bringing home its first postseason title in over a decade shouldn’t prove difficult. Going undefeated and dropping three sets across 12 matches bodes well for any program heading into the MPSF tournament.

(Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
The team goes in for a hug after a point. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

But that marks just the beginning of the Bruins’ trek into finally clinching the honor that has been eluding coach John Speraw for over a decade with UCLA.

An NCAA title.

Speraw brought the Bruin program two titles as a player and UC Irvine its first in program history in his first head-coaching gig. Despite a decade without a ring, the coach remains familiar with winning it all in the postseason.

The rest of the team isn’t yet. But while the NCAA tournament is a tougher competition, UCLA has already showed its ability to adapt and overcome, taking home a victory against its then-only loss of the season in Penn State. The blue and gold swept the season series against Long Beach State and put up a good fight against Hawai’i despite falling to the current No. 1 team.

[Related: No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball defeats No. 3 Penn State to avenge lone season loss]

Men’s volleyball isn’t men’s basketball. While March brings madness, May brings eight of the top teams in the country together to battle it out in a bracket that likely falls to four well-known programs.

Despite what the coaches poll claims, UCLA is statistically the top team in the country, leading in RPI, coming in top three nationally in five statistical categories and posting no losses outside a No. 1- or No. 3-ranked opponent. A circle of parity surrounds the best teams in collegiate men’s volleyball, with all of them vying for one final honor.

(Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Players cheer after a UCLA victory. The Bruins are 27-2 heading into the postseason as they vie for the national title. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

There’s no doubt in the volleyball world that UCLA touts the roster, coaching staff and desire for vengeance to succeed on the final stage. But there’s also no doubt that Hawai’i, Penn State and Long Beach State have the same drive and ability.

In the end, national recognition falls to a sprinkle of luck and the mentality of the team.

With veterans junior Ethan Champlin, senior Alex Knight and sophomore Ido David spearheading the pin, redshirt junior Merrick McHenry and redshirt sophomore Guy Genis filling out the middle, and redshirt senior Troy Gooch at libero, the Bruins boast a plethora of experience. And despite being the youngest in the starting lineup, freshman Andrew Rowan has proven his value behind the service line and at setter time and time again.

UCLA has the talent, the determination and the players to bring home No. 121 to Westwood.

It might finally be time.

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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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