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Newcomers McQuiggan, Nakamura lead UCLA men’s volleyball to win over Penn State

UCLA men’s volleyball coach John Speraw smiles after the squad’s win. Speraw experimented with his starting lineup Saturday night in the Bruins’ win against the Nittany Lions. (Myka Fromm/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's Volleyball

No. 1 UCLA3
No. 7 Penn State0

By Amelie Ionescu

Jan. 21, 2024 6:56 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 21 at 10:59 p.m.

Ordinary isn’t the word to describe two players making their inaugural start against a top-10 squad.

And yet, that duo holds much of the credit for Saturday’s win.

Junior libero Hideharu Nakamura and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Sean McQuiggan both provided a pivotal yet distinct piece to No. 1 UCLA men’s volleyball (5-1) as it swept No. 7 Penn State (4-2) in Austin, Texas at the First Point Collegiate Challenge.

On the offensive front, McQuiggan totaled four kills on seven attempts for a .571 clip, providing a powerhouse at the middle in his third career match. His three blocks and career-best two digs left coach John Speraw singing his praises after the match.

“We started showing McQuiggan,” Speraw said. “That was great to see him calm and contribute. He’s been working hard in the off-season and really made tremendous improvements.”

The 6-foot-11 McQuiggan has provided integral depth in the middle that the Bruins needed to fill upon the departure of J.R. Norris IV to the professional ranks at the close of last season.

McQuiggan said the experience was exhilarating.

“I figured out I was starting the game about midday today (Saturday),” McQuiggan said. “A little bit of nervousness, a little bit of excitement. … I just went out there, and I’m calling for it, doing what I’m doing in practice. It’s really fun to go out there.”

Nakamura proved a defensive stalwart in the match, taking up the libero jersey alongside freshman Luca Curci. Formally playing together for the first time this season, the duo totaled five digs while at their respective roles – Nakamura on defense with Curci passing.

Speraw said the match showcased one of the best libero combinations he’s tried this season.

Curci added that the composition will prove critical as the season progresses.

“It worked out great,” Curci said. “Hide played great defense tonight, he got up with a couple big digs. The system works great, actually, and I feel like we should keep doing that.”

Originally from Japan, Nakamura joined the roster in January after playing outside hitter for two seasons at Orange Coast College. Despite having spent the least time with the squad, Nakamura’s presence in Westwood was well-received by the rest of the team.

While the continual switching between setters last season proved testing for the players come match time, McQuiggan said he barely felt the difference between when Curci was on the court and when Nakamura was.

[Related: Cohesion concerns cause UCLA men’s volleyball to concede loss to Penn State]

“Being able to play with both at the same time, at times you didn’t even notice it,” McQuiggan said.

While being the youngest member on the court for the Bruins, Curci has quickly become one of Speraw’s go-to players, rotating between the outside hitter and libero positions efficiently. Despite the shake-ups, Curci said both learning a new position and extending his high school roster spot have been intriguing experiences.

Curci added that the veteran members of the team – specifically senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin and redshirt senior outside hitter Alex Knight – have guided him into becoming a better player.

“Champ and Alex are both really good passers,” Curci said. “They just taught me how to pass away from my body. I’m learning stuff I grew up not knowing. (The two are) teaching me through it and coaching me – being like mentors almost.”

While Champlin tallied five digs and a service ace and Knight led the team with nine kills, it was the harmony between veterans and newcomers that helped the Bruins rebound from the first loss of their season against Ohio State on Friday.

Ordinary may not be the word to describe the reigning national champions’ squad right now. But Saturday proved it doesn’t have to.

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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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