UCLA men’s volleyball MPSF tournament predictions 2023
Players celebrate after a point. The roster’s depth has allowed UCLA to thrive under pressure and will continue to help them in the postseason. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
This post was updated April 18 at 10:58 p.m.
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: MPSF champions
Each game, it’s someone new for the Bruins.
Among a roster of players who have registered the team’s best conference season since 1995, UCLA has produced its deepest roster in recent history.
And with most men’s volleyball teams comes the player who can put his squad on his back and will them to victoryL the player feared most by opponents who plays the most intimidating role on their scouting reports.
There’s none for the Bruins.
Because nearly all UCLA players can fit that descriptor.
During my first-ever interview with redshirt sophomore middle blocker Guy Genis, he reminded me that “teams never know who’s going to be our hot guy tonight.” The words meant little to me during my second-ever UCLA volleyball game.
Now, I understand.
At the top of the NCAA’s hitting percentage rankings, redshirt junior Merrick McHenry posted a .515 clip throughout the regular season. In other words, the middle blocker managed to create an opportunity in over half the chances he was given. Ahead by nearly two-tenths, McHenry overshadowed the league as the only player to mark above a .500.
If McHenry is off, sophomore outside hitter/opposite Ido David is on. Or senior outside hitter Alex Knight. Or redshirt senior middle blocker J.R. Norris IV. Or junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin.
Even more, it’s not often we see a dominant freshman setter. On top of effectively replacing UCLA’s MPSF player of the year in junior Miles Partain, Andrew Rowan has tallied second overall in assists per set among MPSF teams, falling one assist per set short of Pepperdine’s Bryce Dvorak. Rowan’s natural ability to read and understand his attackers has thrust the Bruins to unparalleled connections within the team and the power to get any attacker going.
The list continues, the numbers go on.
But it will all be proven at Stanford.
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: MPSF champions
Last year, the Bruins had their dreams of a conference title crushed in a five-set thriller that went to Stanford in the MPSF semifinal match.
But now, a brand new chance awaits them.
I know what you’re probably thinking: “We’ve heard this story before. What makes this year different?” And yes, I know UCLA has a history of having high-ranked regular season teams collapse in the postseason, but something tells me this men’s volleyball team will be different.
For starters, this is the first year since 1995 where UCLA has gone undefeated in conference play in the regular season. The two times the blue and gold faced off against Stanford – the team which knocked them out of the tournament last year – UCLA did not drop a set.
And the major X-factor for UCLA? David. David has been on another planet offensively since the start of the season, leading the team with 295 kills, and 130 of those coming against MPSF teams. Statistically, David’s performance this season marks the highest number of kills by one player since 2019. And outside the numbers, David draws multiple blockers to his side, helping to spread the offense for UCLA.
David has also contributed from behind the service line this season, with 36 aces. Defensively, David stepped up his performance in the last game of the regular season, adding a personal-best seven block assists and eight digs in the match against Pepperdine.
Besides David, the other focal points of the roster, such as Knight, McHenry and Champlin, will play monumental roles this weekend. These guys have all been here before. It just comes down to learning from last year’s mistakes and dominating the postseason like they have this entire campaign.
If stats are anything to go by, UCLA will be the team to beat at the MPSF tournament. The Bruins lead the conference in kills, blocks, assists, service aces, hitting percentage and nearly every major statistic there is. When it comes down to it, the numbers don’t lie.
This is the year.
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: MPSF champions
Undefeated in conference play, dropping three sets while picking up nine sweeps, UCLA is the best team in the MPSF. UCLA is the best it’s been in over two decades. UCLA is primed to win John Speraw’s first postseason title in his tenure as head coach of the Bruins.
I could sit here and list all the statistics that back up those claims.
But my faith lies not in the statistics. It’s the players.
The fun-loving culture that spurred on the wins, the laughs and the jokes that decorate every point and litter every tight set will be what overcomes any last hurdle the program might deal with. UCLA has weapons firing on every cylinder not only because of raw talent, but because of the team’s chemistry.
The championship still won’t be easy.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, UCLA will have the hardest path weaving through its semifinal matchup. No. 4 seed Grand Canyon and No. 5 seed Pepperdine – one of which will be the Bruins’ foe – are the only two teams to have pulled a set from the top-seeded Bruin squad. And once again, the two teams will come out firing with nothing to lose, likely pushing the match to four sets. Nevertheless, UCLA has recovered, adapted and overcome during the regular season, and will breeze through the last three sets to move on.
And with one more match awaiting the Bruins – who have swept every other team in the MPSF – there’s no foreseeable future in which they cannot emerge victorious in the postseason. The Bruins will have shaken off the cobwebs of travel and will have the victory close enough in their reach to make taking the MPSF postseason title not only attainable but likely.
The most dominant program in college volleyball is back, and it starts here.
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: Loss in semifinals
The Bruins will emerge victorious at the MPSF tournament.
You’re right, that wasn’t what you read above. But hear me out: Out of the three predictions I have written for the Bruin, I have never once gotten it right.
So this time, I’ll be trying something new. I’m hoping that my bad-luck streak will continue and, once again, I prove to be wrong.
But to be honest, with or without my prediction, I anticipate the blue and gold will prevail.
UCLA leads in RPI as the No. 1 team in the nation and consistently ranks among the top three collegiate teams in aces per set, assists per set, blocks per set, hitting percentage and kills per set. With an overall 27-2 record and 12-0 conference play record, the Bruins have the potential to do anything they put their minds to.
And I have no doubt that they will put their minds to the arduous task ahead of them.
The team’s talent provides them with one of the most impressive track records on the circuit. But it is their deep-seated love of the sport and each other, through the highs and the lows, that makes them a delight to root for. From Champlin diving over a table right in front of me at Pauley Pavilion to McHenry gushing about Speraw in post-game interviews, I have never seen a team with such passion, determination and connection.
More than anything, I would like to see the Bruins triumph at the tournament because the team deserves it.
It’s hard not to feel optimistic about the squad’s chances, especially as I have grown fond of them with each passing match. But I’ll do my best to suppress that optimism.
So if the blue and gold come out on top, I’m happy. And if the team loses, I’ve finally made my first correct prediction.
It’s a win-win situation.