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UCLA men’s volleyball recovers from upset loss to sweep UC San Diego

Senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin rises to tap the ball over the net. Champlin bounced back from slower offensive production Thursday night with 17 kills on a .519 clip Friday against UC San Diego. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

By Amelie Ionescu

Jan. 27, 2024 1:10 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 29 at 12:15 a.m.

Sports are all about upsets.

March wouldn’t be mad without them, bets wouldn’t be placed without them and people wouldn’t be as invested without them.

Knocked off the No. 1 spot in the nation only a week prior, the Bruins received one of the biggest upsets of the season Thursday against No. 17 UC Santa Barbara. And even a bounce back Friday night didn’t satisfy coach John Speraw.

“Nice to get back out there and play better – well, let’s just say this: It was nice to get back out there and compete,” he corrected himself mid-sentence.

Nevertheless, the stat line didn’t pick up on the coach’s disappointment as No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (6-2) swept No. 20 UC San Diego (2-6) with a dominating 10-3 run to close the match. Tallying 44 kills at a respectable .432 clip to UCSD’s 25 at a .179 figure, 8.0 blocks to UCSD’s 4.0, and four aces to UCSD’s two, UCLA emerged on top in almost every slot on the box score.

“We came in prepared for tonight (Friday night),” said senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin. “More to do with our mental energy than it did our physical energy.”

Champlin’s 17 kills led the Bruins and served as a personal redemption after the offensive stalwart took a seat on the bench partway through Thursday’s contest. In fact, it was his kill that spurred UCLA out of its slump midway through the second set against UCSD, returning from a 7-14 hole to eventually claim the frame in overtime.

The four-year starter said his disappointment after the loss became his motivation in under 24 hours, pushing him to click with his team on all cylinders.

“After the match last night (Thursday night), I told my teammates I need to be better mentally – I was focused on all the wrong things, so I wanted to put that into practice,” Champlin said. “I got to give credit where credit’s due: The passing line with me was exceptional.”

The contest was also a homecoming for the Oceanside local, who added that playing in front of fans and coming back to San Diego was exciting for him.

Despite his stint on the bench against UCSB on Thursday, Champlin returned to the court in the fifth set to serve and defend, providing the Bruins with a leader on the backcourt.

The veteran said his teammates’ trust gave him the confidence he needed to take an unfamiliar position for his several rotations.

The newest member of the team, junior libero Hideharu Nakamura, said trust was one of the key aspects that improved his game between Thursday and Friday’s matches.

“Yesterday (Thursday) I was making missed connections a little bit between my positioning and my blockers,” Nakamura said. “So today (Friday) I tried to trust my blockers, my coaches, our data and everything. I tried to trust everyone.”

The transition has been challenging, Nakamura added, as he’s had to connect his skills to the team’s toolbox in a short period of time.

Thursday highlighted that despite returning every starter of a national-championship-winning team, the Bruins have much to learn and adjust to. Friday proved that the team has the ability to recuperate, even with less than its best.

But less than their best may not satisfy Speraw or the Bruins, who might need to fire on all cylinders – mental and physical – to repeat their successes of last season.

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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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