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UCLA men’s volleyball aims to rebound in 1st season doubleheader

Redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry elevates to serve the ball. UCLA men’s volleyball’s effort on the service line has proven decisive to its results so far this season. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Men’s Volleyball

UC Irvine
Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Bren Events Center
UC Irvine
Friday, 7 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
UCLA Live Stream

By Connor Dullinger

Jan. 30, 2024 1:05 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 30 at 7:47 p.m. 

The Bruins are preparing for their first back-to-back series of the year.

No. 5 UCLA men’s volleyball (6-2) is slated to play against No. 7 UC Irvine (5-1) in its first doubleheader of the season and a chance to build a winning streak after its sweep of No. 19 UC San Diego. The Bruins will drive down to Bren Events Center in Irvine on Wednesday for the first of two contests, after which they will return to Pauley Pavilion to host the final battle Friday.

Irvine is coming off a five-match win streak, having not lost a contest since its season opener against then-No. 20 George Mason. The Anteaters are on the heels of consecutive victories over No. 9 BYU and now have the chance to extend their win streak to six against another top-10-ranked team.

“They are a really tough team. We’re going to have to be better than we were this week,” said coach John Speraw. “We’re going to have to be really good on Monday and Tuesday and use that time to flush a couple of things out and study them.”

UCLA will have the chance to rebound from a four-game stretch that featured losses to both No. 12 UC Santa Barbara and No. 6 Ohio State in five-set thrillers. With two losses on the year, the Bruins have already matched the total number of losses they had last season.

Wednesday and Friday’s matchups will likely boil down to performance on the service line. Achieving harmony between generating aces and minimizing service errors has proven to be a challenge for UCLA after a four-ace, 23-service-error outing against UCSD. In their loss to the Buckeyes, the Bruins similarly recorded four aces against 30 service errors.

Despite recent struggles, senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin said the Bruins are confident with their bench’s production this season.

“I wasn’t playing well. I have teammates who are very good and very capable,” Champlin said. “I have the utmost trust in whoever comes in for me.”

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson responded when his name was called.

Robinson recorded nine kills each against Morehouse and UCSB on a .727 and .467 clip, respectively, and tallied 10 kills and five blocks – both career highs – against Ohio State.

Outside of big impacts off the bench, Speraw said the Bruins have honed in on their blocking skills as an asset to win games.

“I think we have some individual blockers that are doing a really nice job,” Speraw said. “I do think we need to continue to focus. Our offense has been pretty good. But our block has been good in spurts and certainly had an impact on this match.”

The one inconsistent variable for the Bruins has been their libero. Recently, the squad has experimented with different figures on the role, but there is yet to be a lock on the starting position.

Despite the frequent changes, junior libero Hideharu Nakamura said he and freshman outside hitter Luca Curci are working to improve alongside one another to secure a consistent face for the position.

“Luca’s skills are so much better,” Nakamura said. “I’m learning from him different things, like how to defend and how to serve.”

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Connor Dullinger
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