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With its defeat of Grand Canyon, UCLA men’s volleyball secures spot in MPSF finals

The team celebrates after a point. UCLA swept its conference semifinal match against Grand Canyon, breaking a streak of low postseason success that dates back to its MPSF semifinal appearance in 2022. It looks to face the winner, either Stanford or BYU, on Saturday. (Myka Fromm/Daily Bruin)

Men’s Volleyball


No. 1 seed UCLA3
No. 4 seed Grand Canyon0

By Ira Gorawara

April 20, 2023 8:20 p.m.

This post was updated April 20 at 9:52 p.m.

STANFORD — Postseason semifinal matches became a roadblock for the Bruins in 2022.

But they wouldn’t let history repeat itself.

No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball (28-2, 12-0 MPSF) emerged victorious against No. 4 seed Grand Canyon (22-7, 6-6) in the MPSF semifinals on Thursday. Friends and family from Phoenix and Westwood furnished Maples Pavilion, but an army of onlookers adorned in purple chanting “Let’s go ‘Lopes” wasn’t enough to bother the Bruins.

Redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry said the tumult from the crowd only benefits the team.

“We personally prefer a little bit louder gyms, and we love away matches. We love being the ‘villain’ and bad guys in the gym,” McHenry said. “When they are screaming random things at us, it requires us to focus a little bit more.”

Deafening commotion filled the space as the lower-seeded Antelopes pressed for a Cinderella run. Up by three, the first set looked locked for Grand Canyon until a 7-3 response from UCLA, sparked by three kills from junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin, landed the first frame in the hands of the blue and gold with a 25-23 decision.

Coach John Speraw credits freshman setter Andrew Rowan’s service run in UCLA clinching the slate.

“Rowan’s service run was really important,” Speraw said. “For a freshman to go back and rip those serves like that and get us back in that set was really impressive. That was the spark we needed to get back in that set.”

The first time the Bruins saw their semifinals foes this season, the Antelopes clinched the initial slate, as both teams hit over .400 in the frame. In the second matchup of the doubleheader, the Bruins managed a close first-set victory at 30-28.

Cognizant of their repeated inability to close out the first set, the Bruins approached the first frame of the semifinals with the mindset of being down 0-1 already, according to McHenry.

“We just pretended right now we’re down 0-1. The set has already happened, and we’ve done our typical thing, so let’s regroup,” McHenry said. “Ultimately, with it being playoff time and with us all being so passionate and bought into this year and this season, we weren’t going to lose that first set.”

 

Junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin goes up for a hit. Champlin totaled 12 on the night at a .474 clip. (Myka Fromm/Daily Bruin)

Averaging a .379 hitting percentage, UCLA is currently slated right ahead of Grand Canyon for first in the conference. And the Bruins’ efficient offense came alive in the opening frame, as they outhit the Antelopes .417 to .286.

McHenry – who was recently named MPSF Defensive Player of the Week and a member of the All-MPSF first team – had a strong night, hitting 10 kills at a season-high .909 clip and notching five blocks.

“.909 is pretty effective,” Speraw said. “We relied on him pretty early … Merrick was outstanding. That’s what I want to say.”

Postseason success is no stranger to McHenry. Averaging .520 in last year’s tournaments, the middle blocker has proven his ability to perform during playoff season.

According to McHenry, he translates his enthusiasm for the postseason into his aggression and performance on the court.

“Ultimately, it is playoff time, and I want to contribute as much as possible and help my team,” McHenry said. “It’s just me being super amped for playoff time.”

A second set that began in a similar back-and-forth fashion to the first quickly favored the Bruins, as they saw their largest lead of the frame and nabbed a 17-11 advantage. Grand Canyon’s six-point deficit would tie to become its largest of the match, but the Arizona-based squad battled back to a one-point margin.

The narrow lead forced a UCLA timeout, sparking uproar and excitement from the purple herd of Antelopes fans.

Nevertheless, a 6-0 run by the Bruins squashed the near comeback and sent the semifinals into what would become the final set.

According to Champlin, a scrappy play ignited a near comeback by the Antelopes.

“It started off with a play we don’t like as a team where it was a scrap play,” Champlin said. “We shouldn’t have gotten it, and it was a bummer to have their run start like that. You got to just go next ball – the past is in the past – and we had to look past it to get that win.”

After recently securing his third consecutive All-MPSF recognition, Champlin saw an impactful night with 12 kills, hitting at .474.

Speraw attributes Champlin’s performance to his work behind the scenes.

“He’s been playing great volleyball lately,” Speraw said. “He’s spent a lot of intentional time on his attacking, and it’s showing.”

An impressive .500 clip in the third frame thrusted the Bruins to a set victory and punched in their ticket to the MPSF finals.

“I have a lot of trust in this group,” Speraw said. “They have demonstrated poise and maturity and the ability to weather emotional storms and the enthusiasm of fired-up teams on the other side of the net all year long.”

With the victory, the Bruins return to Maples Pavilion to face off against the winner of the second semifinal, either BYU or Stanford, on Saturday at 6:05 p.m.

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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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