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UCLA men’s volleyball matches up with Pepperdine this Valentine’s Day

Members of UCLA’s men’s volleyball converge to celebrate after a point. The team is beginning its MPSF contention Wednesday night against Pepperdine at Pauley Pavilion. (Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)

Men's Volleyball

Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
Pac-12 Los Angeles
Saturday, 2 p.m.

Firestone Fieldhouse

By Amelie Ionescu

Feb. 13, 2024 1:10 p.m.

Love, consumerism and volleyball – the tenants of a productive Valentine’s Day.

At least, that’s the case for outside hitter/opposite Cole Ketrzynski and No. 11 Pepperdine (9-2) as they arrive in Westwood to meet Ketrzynski’s alma mater in No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball (9-3) Wednesday night. The two teams will rematch 40 minutes down Route 1 in Malibu’s Firestone Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

The last time 6-foot-7 Ketrzynski stepped foot in a match at Pauley Pavilion, he was honored at the Bruins’ senior night against the very team he plays for now. In that matchup, UCLA became the first team to sweep the MPSF in 27 years after already securing the regular season crown for the second consecutive year.

[Related: UCLA men’s volleyball becomes 1st team to sweep MPSF regular season in 27 years]

And in their first MPSF competition of the year, the Bruins will have a chance to begin their attempt at a repeat of those successes.

Coach John Speraw said the upcoming contests are an opportunity for growth.

“We’ve learned a lot from these teams where we need to get better,” Speraw said. “So for us, it’s about just getting better every day. These next matches give us an opportunity to do that.”

Despite a rocky nonconference slate featuring three losses, UCLA is coming off its biggest win of its 2024 campaign, besting top-ranked Long Beach State at home. Pepperdine is riding its own three-game win streak coming into the doubleheader, including back-to-back victories over UC Santa Barbara – one of the Bruins’ losses this season.

“These matches and this preseason was great for us going into MPSF,” said redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry. “Losing sucks, but also losing teaches us a lot of things and it helps us understand what we need to work on or what we need to improve on.”

While both teams’ lineups have seen various shakeups, Ketrzynski leads the team in kills in almost half of its games.

The Canadian has reached double-digit kills in all games but one in his graduate season, leading his team with 114 total while hitting at an overall .329 clip. He comes in the top five in every statistical category and has seen playing time in 32 of 37 total sets – a stark difference to his final hurrah with UCLA, where he played in 34 sets all season and secured 24 kills.

As a sophomore, Ketrzynski was a powerhouse for the squad in 2021, with double-digit kill tallies in all but four games. However, Ketrzynski spent most of his junior and senior seasons on the bench as an influx of talent helped propel the Bruins back onto the national stage in 2022 after missing it entirely the year prior.

UCLA surpasses Pepperdine in every statistical category, barring digs, but with senior Ethan Champlin notching a season-and-team-high 17 digs in his last match at libero – the highest of any Bruin in over eight years – and steadying the back row passing, the Bruin defense lit up against the Beach.

[Related: UCLA men’s volleyball cleans No. 1 Beach in upset victory]

“I’m going to study us and I’m going to keep thinking about how we’re going to be a better team,” Speraw said.

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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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