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Bruins in Paris

With victory over Stanford, UCLA men’s volleyball emerges as conference champion

After 16 years, UCLA men’s volleyball is the conference champion. With a regular season sweep already under their belts, the Bruins took the MPSF crown with only six sets played. (Myka Fromm/Daily Bruin)

Men’s Volleyball


No. 1 seed UCLA3
No. 3 seed Stanford0

By Ira Gorawara

April 22, 2023 9:39 p.m.

This post was updated April 23 at 9:53 p.m.

STANFORD – Tied at 22 apiece in the third set, it looked like the Bruins would send their title-clinching game to a fourth frame. 

However, when the team needed it most, one player notched back-to-back kills and secured his team a sweep in the conference championship.

J.R. Norris IV. 

The redshirt senior middle blocker glared at the tumultuous Cardinal student section as he churned out the two best kills of his season.

“We always know we can go to J.R. for that,” said coach John Speraw. 

Amid stands adorned in red and fans dressed in the same, racket from the crowd was all but in favor of the Bruins. Nevertheless, nothing could lay between them and the 2023 conference title as No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball (29-2, 12-0 MPSF) overcame No. 3 seed Stanford (15-13, 6-6) to clinch its first MPSF championship in 16 years. 

The crowd’s thundering commotion wasn’t the ordinary applause and cheers. The merciless Cardinal student section took every opportunity to get under the Bruins’ skin with taunts and ridicule. 

Derision emerged from the crowd as it attempted to provoke sophomore Ido David. “Ido, how old are you now? 26? 27?” ran through the outside hitter/opposite’s ears.  

The mob of Stanford students jeered at Norris, mocking his short socks. 

J.R. Norris IV lifts for a kill. The redshirt senior middle blocker posted the two match-securing kills to clinch the conference title for the Bruins. (Myka Fromm/Daily Bruin)

“It’s one of the reasons I do wear short socks,” Norris said. “I just know I already do stand out in a minority in a predominantly white sport. So to have fans go at me, it just adds fuel for the fire.” 

And a scoffing directed at redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry – “Dude thinks he looks unique with those tattoos” – didn’t stand the test of time as McHenry went on to secure the MPSF Player of the Tournament accolade, producing 10 kills alongside a .833 hitting percentage.

McHenry said the spirit of the Cardinal crowd stimulated the team.

“We were super excited that Stanford won (its semifinal),” McHenry said. “We knew their fans would come out and we would have a super loud, noisy gym. We love preparing for moments like that, and it doesn’t do too much to affect us, instead helps our team focus.” 

The Bruins overcame a 16-year drought as they swept the same team that eliminated them from the conference championships last year. After the tight 3-2 exit in 2022, UCLA barely gave Stanford a glimmer of hope as it dominated in three sets. 

Speraw – who secured his first ever MPSF title at the helm of the Bruins – said the MPSF title is at times tougher than a national championship. 

“With the depth of teams in the MPSF over the years, sometimes it’s harder to win the MPSF than it is to win a national championship,” Speraw said. “We have shown tremendous improvement from last year, and winning an MPSF championship was really valuable for our continued growth as a team.”

Errors commanded the match as the Bruins’ biggest internal foe reared its head again and again. Despite demonstrating dominance from behind the line, service errors littered the blue and gold’s first set as it ended the night with 18. 

The Cardinal didn’t do much better, however. Squandering the first slate to back-to-back service errors, Stanford continued its lackluster performance by allowing UCLA to take the second set on the back of another service error. 

Proving why their hitting percentage leads the conference, an efficient .550 clip from the Bruins cruised them through the initial frame, as five Bruins tallied a perfect 1.000. UCLA concluded the match posting a .379 figure. 

According to McHenry, the depth of UCLA’s roster contributes to its effective offensive production. 

“Our fire power is something that is super beneficial for us,” McHenry said. “As UCLA men’s volleyball, we always have people who can jump high and hit the ball hard. Even if we go to the bench, we have guys that can come in and put the ball away, so our offensive threat is something that a lot of teams think about and have to worry about.” 

McHenry averaged a .871 clip in the contest alongside back-to-back matches notching 10 kills. 

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

His performance through the tournament was the best Speraw has seen from any middle blocker. 

“He was dominant this weekend,” Speraw said. “It was the most impressive individual middle blocker performance I have seen over the course of a tournament. He has really become one of the most impactful players in the country, and he really shows that tonight.”

With the victory, the Bruins secured their first MPSF title since 2006. 

According to Norris, the game made a statement to the country. 

“After coming one set short (in last year’s MPSF semifinals), it was definitely a revenge match,” Norris said. “We wanted to make sure to go out there and make a statement. Let everybody know that we’re coming for the natty. At the end of the day, now the goal is to put another banner up at Pauley.” 

With the win, UCLA secured a national championship berth. The selection show to determine seeding will begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

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Ira Gorawara | Sports editor
Gorawara is the 2024-2025 Sports editor on the football, men’s basketball and NIL beats and a Copy contributor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men’s volleyball, men’s tennis, women’s volleyball and rowing beats and a contributor on the men’s volleyball and rowing beats. She is a rising third-year economics and communication student minoring in professional writing from Hong Kong.
Gorawara is the 2024-2025 Sports editor on the football, men’s basketball and NIL beats and a Copy contributor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men’s volleyball, men’s tennis, women’s volleyball and rowing beats and a contributor on the men’s volleyball and rowing beats. She is a rising third-year economics and communication student minoring in professional writing from Hong Kong.
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