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UCLA men’s volleyball delivers Valentine’s Day crush to Pepperdine

Redshirt sophomore Cooper Robinson lunges to receive the ball as fellow outside hitter senior Ethan Champlin provides support from behind. Robinson matched a team-high 10 kills Wednesday night as the Bruins bested the Waves. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Volleyball

No. 11 Pepperdine0
No. 4 UCLA3

By Anthony Aroyan

Feb. 16, 2024 4:32 p.m.

The Bruins gifted the Waves a sweep on Valentine’s Day.

No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball (10-3, 1-0 MPSF) defeated No. 11 Pepperdine (9-3, 0-1) at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday. In their first match of conference play, the Bruins wiped the scoreboard for the first time in the last five matches.

“I thought we did a very good job in the middle of each set,” said coach John Speraw. “It was even until 14-15 every set, then we ended up winning by a nice margin. I’m not sure how that worked out that way, but we did play very good volleyball.”

UCLA set the tone early in the opening frame, despite a close start. Tied 14-14, a 5-1 Bruin run built a lead the Waves did not come back from, as redshirt senior Merrick McHenry spearheaded the way with five kills on a .500 clip. Through the first two sets, the middle blocker led both teams in kills with nine, alongside three digs and two blocks on the defensive end.

The reigning First-Team AVCA All-American said the Waves’ defensive set up allowed him to attack more.

“I love hitting, it’s my favorite part about playing volleyball.” McHenry said. “When our passers are playing perfectly, we love to give me the ball and ultimately spread out the offense. It gives the other guys a little more room when they’re swinging, too.”

The trend through all three sets was constant – both teams exchanged points until a UCLA scoring spurt halfway through propelled the Bruins to clinch the frame. The first and third each featured eight tied scores, largely during the first half before the Bruins embarked on their offensive bursts.

Redshirt senior outside hitter Alex Knight jointly led his team in kills with 10, alongside redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson. The former simultaneously notched a season-high pair of service aces. Knight rallied his teammates throughout the affair, gathering the huddle after every point and cheering the loudest whenever another Bruin made a play.

Knight said he wants to make the most out of his final season in Westwood.

“I love competing with this team, it’s a lot of fun,” Knight said. “I’m a fifth year, and since this is my last year, I want to make the most out of it and cherish every moment that I have with this team. It’s a lot of fun when you can play free.”

Behind the service line, four Bruins tallied aces on the night. Knight’s two were accompanied by the same from sophomore setter Andrew Rowan and junior outside hitter Ido David, who leads the team in the category.

Despite Pepperdine’s attempts, UCLA ensured the sweep in both teams’ conference-opening affair after dominating in every major statistical category.

Wednesday’s match also marked the homecoming for a former Bruin. Emerging from Pauley Pavilion’s visitor tunnel, outside hitter/opposite Cole Ketrzynski made his first appearance against his old alma mater, leading the Waves in kills with 11.

McHenry added that playing against a former teammate gave the team a competitive advantage.

“It’s super fun playing old teammates,” McHenry said. “I lived with him for three years, we were in the same class, and I practiced with him for four years, so I knew him more than a lot of people and know his tendencies.”

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Anthony Aroyan
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