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Sweeping MPSF play, UCLA men’s volleyball enters semifinal as top seed

Junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin pumps a first after taking a point. The Bruins will face Grand Canyon in the MPSF semifinals on Thursday night, seeking redemption from their early exit last year. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Volleyball


Grand Canyon
Thursday, 4:35 p.m.

Maples Pavilion
FloSports

By Ira Gorawara

April 20, 2023 12:05 p.m.

The MPSF semifinal dawns upon the Bruins.

The exact game that eliminated them from last year’s MPSF tournament.

No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball (27-2, 12-0 MPSF) will take on No. 4 seed Grand Canyon (22-6, 6-6) in the semifinal round of the MPSF tournament Thursday. So far this season, the Bruins have dropped only one set over two games to their conference foes.

Despite UCLA’s sweep of the doubleheader with GCU, both matches saw multiple sets go past the typical 25-point mark. The blue and gold rallied together to take control of the game regardless of GCU’s efforts in keeping sets close.

GCU had no response to UCLA offensively, as three Bruins snagged double-digit kills in both games of the series. Junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin led all UCLA scorers with 15 kills in the first contest, while sophomore outside hitter/opposite Ido David tallied 13 in the second matchup. The Bruins swung for a .444 hitting percentage by the conclusion of the series.

Freshman setter Andrew Rowan said the slate clears as the postseason begins despite the team’s regular–season success.

“We’re back to 0-0,” Rowan said. “We’re going to try to not think of a record or ranking and really focus because anything can happen in a playoff game, so we got to be ready for that. We got to practice good this next week and prepare.”

The Bruins enter the postseason as the top-seeded team in the conference for the second year in a row, after sweeping MPSF play for the first time since 1995. With the seed, the team was handed a bye in the quarterfinal round that was played Wednesday.

According to coach John Speraw, the perceived advantage of a bye may pose a disadvantage to the Bruins.

“It’s always hard to have a bye, it’s not usually good,” Speraw said. “That gives some teams some significant advantages. So for us, it’s about making it happen in the semifinal. When a team has a chance to get on the court and has nothing to lose, … they’re going to play their best match of the season, and that’s going to put some pressure on us.”

Last year, the Bruins dropped a five-set decision to the Cardinal in a matchup with the same stakes. The loss marked UCLA’s first defeat of the season at Pauley Pavilion and ended its hopes of a MPSF championship, sending Stanford straight to the finals.

Still seeking vengeance from 2022’s semifinal loss, redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry said the team has been waiting for this payback opportunity.

“(Last year’s loss) is definitely something we think about,” McHenry said. “We’ve been thinking about this match for about a year now, and we’re super excited to go off to Palo Alto.”

Ahead of the tournament, All-MPSF teams were announced, with five UCLA players appearing on the first team, leaving only two spots for players from other squads.

Senior outside hitter Alex Knight, McHenry, Rowan, Champlin and David appeared on the All-MPSF First Team roster, a testament to the depth of the Bruins’ team this season. Furthermore, Rowan secured MPSF Freshman of the Year for UCLA after leading it to the nation’s highest regular-season hitting percentage at .379 and slating in at the top of the MPSF in service aces with 44.

McHenry emphasized the importance for the blue and gold to take it point by point up in Palo Alto.

“Ultimately it’s just about us really playing one-point volleyball and not looking at it too big picture,” McHenry said. “It’s just about taking it one match at a time, one set and one point. … It’s just all about taking it truly one day at a time and one point.”

First serve against the Antelopes is Thursday at 4:35 p.m. in Maples Pavilion.

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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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