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With fresh and familiar faces, UCLA men’s volleyball takes on ranked opponents

Sophomore outside hitter Zach Rama prepares to hit the ball during a match. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Men's Volleyball

Thursday, 5 p.m.

Neil Carey Arena
GLVC Sports Network

By Connor Dullinger

Jan. 10, 2024 1:04 p.m.

Two ranked programs are awaiting the reigning national champions in Illinois.

No. 1 UCLA men’s volleyball (2-0) is set to play No. 16 Lewis (1-1) on Thursday and No. 10 Loyola Chicago (1-3) on Saturday. The Bruins are slated to play nine of the nation’s current top-10 teams in their 2024 campaign, starting with the Ramblers.

After battling Fort Valley State and Morehouse last week, the upcoming contests mark UCLA’s first against ranked teams since its national championship encounter against Hawai’i last season.

With 17 returning faces from the Bruins’ title-clinching squad, sophomore outside hitter Zach Rama said the Bruins hope to preserve the dominance they exhibited in 2023.

“We want to come in every day with the same drive we had last year,” Rama said. “We want to ensure that everyone remains hungry and that no one gets content with where we are currently at.”

Coach John Speraw added that his squad vows to not get complacent with last year’s success in its rearview, and it will head into this year with veteran players steering the ship.

“We hope to maintain a strong team culture that has been cultivated by really good internal leadership provided by this year’s seniors,” Speraw said. “They are always here leading and ensuring that we are constantly putting the right foot forward.”

The Bruins still boast their top two leaders in kills from last season – junior outside hitter Ido David and senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin – as well as sophomore setter Andrew Roman, who spearheaded the Bruin pack in assists. Champlin and David both notched double-digit kills in the Bruins’ 3-0 victory against Fort Valley State last week with 13 and 10, respectively.

Rama said humility and hard work epitomize the Bruin identity – one that has been established by the leadership of experienced players.

He added that the continuity of the roster from last season to this season has allowed the team to cultivate a feeling of brotherhood.

“I think the rhythm we currently have is very similar to last year. We only lost a few guys, and we all collectively came back with the same strong bonds that we established last season,” Rama said. “We have all come back with the same hunger to win and repeat as national champions.”

Alongside last season’s returning players, the Bruins are also ushering in five new faces.

Freshman middle blocker Micah Wong Diallo said he hopes to contribute in any role and capacity that he can.

“I’m going to do everything that I can in practices and games to help my teammates and this program win another national championship,” Wong Diallo said. “I am going to give it my all.”

Five of UCLA’s returning players spent the offseason representing the United States. Speraw himself has led the United States Men’s National Team since 2013 and most recently coached the FIVB Volleyball Men’s Nation League, which finished in second place this summer

Speraw said his experiences with the national team have allowed him to prosper as a coach.

“I take lessons from both teams, but when it comes to the international level, I take note of the style of game that is being played, how the game is being played and which direction players need to go in so they can prepare for their futures,” Speraw said.

The Bruins will open their two-game road trip against Lewis on Thursday at 5 p.m., followed by a matchup against Loyola Chicago on Saturday at 5 p.m.

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Connor Dullinger
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