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UCLA men’s volleyball defeats UC Irvine in 5-set contest

Redshirt sophomore Cooper Robinson smirks over the net after the Bruins secured a point. The outside hitter notched 22 kills Wednesday night against the Anteaters. (Vivian Le/Daily Bruin)

Men's Volleyball

No. 5 UCLA3
No. 7 Oklahoma2

By Anthony Aroyan

Feb. 1, 2024 2:42 p.m.

The Bruins made a change to the starting lineup in a back-and-forth match away from home.

No. 5 UCLA men’s volleyball (7-2) defeated No. 7 UC Irvine (5-2) in a five–set affair away from home. The Bruins avoided a reverse sweep after the Anteaters surged in the third and fourth frames to bring the contest down to the final set.

UCLA opened the proceedings with a change to its starting rotation. Coach John Speraw elected to start redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson, who finished the match with 22 kills, six digs and five blocks.

Robinson replaced a banged-up Alex Knight, Speraw said. The redshirt senior outside hitter and the 2023 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player saw limited action later in the match.

“It started off great. I thought we were tactically good and aggressive at the service line,” Speraw said. “Then they started playing a lot better, made some subs, and it took us a while to figure out. In the end, we did.”

Last season, Robinson saw the court as a rotational piece on the championship–winning roster. Wednesday night, he was the leading scorer in his debut against a top-10 Anteaters squad.

Sophomore setter Andrew Rowan said Robinson’s success as a pin hitter comes from his physicality.

“He’s a physical guy, so that helps in all aspects of his game,” Rowan said. “On top of that, he’s a great blocker, attacker, and he uses his physicality to his advantage.”

Providing the passing for Robinson’s breakout match, Rowan tallied 47 assists and five kills as he ran the offense through five frames. The sophomore signal caller also displayed his defensive ability with eight digs.

Robinson said Rowan was the main reason for his success.

“I have the best setter in the nation, so it’s pretty easy out there,” Robinson said. “There’s definitely a few swings I wish I could take back, but it was a good overall night.”

Beginning the match with a lead, UCLA won the first two sets 25-18 and 25-15, respectively. However, what started off as a smooth sailing affair turned into a tempest in the third frame. Despite leading through most of the set, a 6-2 Anteater run tied the score at 20 apiece before four Bruin attack errors led to a 25-23 defeat.

The oscillating ride in Irvine continued into the fourth – this time with the Anteaters leading the way. Another early scoring spurt put the Bruins in a deficit from which they could not recover, as they would go on to lose 25-21.

“They went with more of a ball-control lineup which changed the way they were distributing the offense,” Speraw said. “We didn’t adapt to it, and our service game wasn’t as successful as it needed to be. I just didn’t think we attacked great.”

Rising to the occasion late in the match, senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin soared above the net to find UCLA’s first points of the fifth frame. Robinson also restored his early form, as he and Champlin together spearheaded the team with four kills each to clinch the deciding set 15–9.

“We have four of the best outside hitters in the country,” Robinson said. “I just went out there and fought hard. Alex Knight and Zach Rama came in, and they did a fabulous job. It was awesome.”

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Anthony Aroyan
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