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Men’s volleyball 2023 NCAA Tournament predictions

The team celebrates after winning a point. No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball starts its NCAA tournament run Thursday. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin)

By Ira Gorawara, Anthony Aroyan, and Amelie Ionescu

May 2, 2023 3:42 p.m.

This post was updated May 2 at 10:35 p.m.

Amelie Ionescu
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: NCAA champions

I originally noticed UCLA men’s volleyball when its first TikTok popped up on my For You page.

And I started paying attention – to freshman setter Andrew Rowan, to coach John Speraw and to sophomore outside hitter/opposite Ido David. I started seeing the potential.

No. 1 seed UCLA will take home the school’s 121st national title. From Rowan to David to redshirt junior middle blocker Merrick McHenry, the team simmers with talent and potential. Only one squad can stand in its way, and UCLA was a mere four points away from victory the last time the two matched up this season.

The path to the final won’t be simple, but the blue and gold will likely be able to best its next competition, whether it be Long Beach State or Grand Canyon. The Bruins swept both teams in the regular season and dropped only one set against each.

While Hawai’i or Penn State – the likely candidates on the other side of the bracket – prove higher-ranked competition, UCLA already overcame the latter in five sets and stayed within striking distance for the entirety of the four-set match against the former.

UCLA will emerge victorious because it is the best candidate. It put in the work, it has had its best season in over two decades and it deserves the national title. Touting the highest RPI in the nation, leading the NCAA in hitting percentage and blocks per set, sweeping MPSF play for the first time since 1996 and having its best postseason since 2006, it would be a discredit to underestimate the team and the culture it cultivates.

All season, UCLA was slighted – first by Hawai’i, then Penn State, then Hawai’i once more. It’s time for the Bruins to prove their worth.

(Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
Players react in confusion to a call. The Bruins have had their highs and lows this season, but emerged with the best record in the nation and a strong bid for a national title. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

Anthony Aroyan
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: NCAA champions

The story of UCLA men’s volleyball this year has been one of highs and lows.

From dominant sweeps and rising stars to nail-biting losses against top teams, this season has had no shortage of drama and compelling storylines. It has all led up to one last dance.

UCLA is on its way to another NCAA tournament, with the intent to lift the trophy for the first time since 2006.

With four first-team AVCA All-Americans on the roster – the highest of any collegiate program – the Bruins have the personnel to be able to get it done. In terms of individual stats, the blue and gold has put up significant figures when it comes to kills, blocking, aces and hitting percentage.

In that last category, McHenry leads the nation in hitting percentage at .537, the only player to hit above a .500 clip this season.

As a team, UCLA ranks in the top three of nearly every major statistical category. Whether it’s efficiently hitting the ball, blocking, passing, scoring from the service line or open play, Speraw’s squad has proven itself to be among the nation’s best.

In terms of matchups, UCLA holds a 12-2 regular season combined set count over its potential first-round matchups in Long Beach State and Grand Canyon. Despite some tight scorelines against the Beach, the Bruins still found a way to emerge victorious.

On the other side of the bracket, the Bruins will likely have more trouble against the likes of No. 2 seed Hawai’i and Penn State, the only two programs to beat UCLA this campaign. But given the nearly monthlong window between those matchups, which saw Rowan settle into the lineup, the blue and gold will have a more refined and defined game plan.

With both individual talent and a team-first brand of volleyball, UCLA will be able to end the 2023 season on the ultimate high.

(Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin staff)
Ethan Champlin receives a serve. The junior outside hitter was one of four Bruins named to the AVCA All-America first team, as the entire starting lineup all made an appearance on the list. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin staff)

Ira Gorawara
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: NCAA Champions

There’s really only one team that stands in the way of UCLA bringing the 121st national championship to Westwood.

Hawai’i.

The current No. 2 seed handed the Bruins their second and final loss of the season as a rally of close calls and duels over the net favored the Rainbow Warriors. With two of the four sets finding their way into overtime, runs from both sides kept scores within a whisker of one another.

And for the Bruins, their 24 attack errors tipped the pendulum toward the Rainbow Warriors.

But UCLA’s last 10 games since the loss to Hawai’i have seen not only 10 consecutive wins but 10 consecutive matches of under 18 attack errors. UCLA’s main attackers in David, McHenry, junior outside hitter Ethan Champlin and senior outside hitter Alex Knight have mustered an entirely new level of offensive production.

McHenry, Champlin and David were recently named first-team AVCA All-Americans, with Knight securing Second-Team honors. The four have combined for a .399 hitting percentage in UCLA’s past 10 games.

But the talent isn’t limited to just four players. This year’s Newcomer of the Year is Rowan – who rose to the occasion following the departure of former junior setter/opposite Miles Partain.

And despite Rowan’s delayed start to the season before Partain made his exit, he stands at .485 aces per set, ahead of Hawai’i’s setter Jakob Thelle’s .364.

I may not know who, but someone will deliver for the Bruins. And that someone is about to end a 16-year drought and hoist a national trophy on Saturday.

So yes, the Bruins have lost to their likely finals contender. But let’s not forget, every dog has its day. And Hawai’i had its day.

It’s time for the Bruins to have theirs.

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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.
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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