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Bruins represent Team USA in FIVB Volleyball Nations League competition

UCLA men’s volleyball alum, outside hitter Garrett Muagututia (right), joins in a huddle with members of the U.S. squad. After an undefeated week two of play, the Americans stand 7-1 in the tournament. (Courtesy of USA Volleyball)

Men's Volleyball

No. 2 USA3
No. 9 Serbia1
No. 2 USA3
No. 22 China0
No. 2 USA3
No. 11 Iran0
No. 2 USA3
No. 1 Poland0

By Anthony Aroyan

July 2, 2023 1:16 p.m.

Select Bruins from past and present are showcasing their talents on the international stage

The 2023 FIVB Volleyball Men’s Nations League kicked off on June 6, with competition underway at stadiums across Europe, Asia and North America. Week two of the tournament saw the No. 2-ranked United States men’s national volleyball team drop just one set en route to four straight victories in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

At the helm of the U.S. squad is UCLA men’s volleyball head coach John Speraw. An assistant during the team’s gold medal campaign in 2008, Speraw assumed head coaching duties for the national team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the team secured a bronze medal.

Speraw noted the differences between coaching on the collegiate and national levels.

“I could probably write an article or a whole book on it,” Speraw said. “It’s different not just with the athletes but also the context, meaning the amount of training time and how you get everybody back playing together and being on the same page.”

Current and former UCLA players round out Westwood’s presence on the squad. Rising redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry and rising senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin earned a call up from the Bruins’ championship roster.

(Courtesy of USA Volleyball)
Rising redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry elevates for a kill. The AVCA All-American is yet to see action on court as coach John Speraw utilizes his older players. (Courtesy of USA Volleyball)

As younger members of a team featuring Olympic athletes and professional volleyball players, the two first-team AVCA All-Americans have yet to take the floor as Speraw focuses on his veteran talent.

“These guys are very experienced. When I got this team in 2016, it was exceptionally young,” Speraw said. “Now it’s basically the same core group of athletes, and so the amount of leadership, responsibility and professionalism is just off the charts.”

Representing the Bruin alumni are outside hitter Garrett Muagututia and setter Micah Ma’a from the classes of 2010 and 2019, respectively. Both players saw action in week one of the proceedings in Ottawa, Canada.

Muagututia – a 2020 Olympian – notched seven kills and two service aces against Italy off a .500 hitting clip while being a rotational piece for Speraw throughout the week.

(Courtesy of USA Volleyball)
Muagututia rises for a kill. After graduating from UCLA in 2010, he was a 2020 Olympian and brings his international expertise to this year’s Volleyball Nations League. (Courtesy of USA Volleyball)

“He (Muagututia) is really good at understanding how to control the game,” Speraw said. “He can come off the bench and provide passing and ball control but also a steady emotional influence on the team. He’s been playing for a long time all over the world, and the guys have a lot of respect for him.”

The U.S. secured a decisive victory during week two, sweeping Poland, the top-ranked team heading into the tournament, to hand the nation its only round two loss. Following a tight opening frame, the Americans marched on to 25-18 and 25-19 victories in the second and third sets.

Outside hitter TJ DeFalco was the offensive leader for the United States throughout the contest in both weeks one and two. Striking at .529 efficiency, the Missouri local has been a mainstay on Speraw’s lineup throughout the tournament.

A 7-1 start across the first two weeks of tournament play grants USA a second-place ranking, just behind undefeated Japan.

The U.S. will continue its Volleyball Nations League campaign in week three of pool play at the Anaheim Convention Center. First serve will be against Cuba on Wednesday, July 5, at 6:30 p.m.

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Anthony Aroyan
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