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In two 5-set thrillers, UCLA men’s volleyball splits doubleheader against BYU

The Bruins eye their hitter as they compete for a point. UCLA men’s volleyball faced its first MPSF loss of the season Friday but avenged it with a victory against the same foe Saturday night. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Volleyball

No. 4 UCLA2
No. 8 BYU3
No. 4 UCLA3
No. 8 BYU2

By Connor Dullinger

Feb. 25, 2024 7:48 p.m.

This post was updated Feb 25. at 9:27 p.m.

This weekend was a tale of two matches for the Bruins.

Between both, the Bruins and Cougars witnessed a combined total of 75 tied scores and 19 lead changes.

After back-to-back five-set thrillers, No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball (12-4, 3-1 MPSF) split its doubleheader against No. 8 BYU (10-6, 1-3) in Provo, Utah, claiming a Saturday night win after dropping Friday’s opener. Both affairs featured seesaw battles in which the eventual victors each bounced back from 2-1 deficits.

Powered by 11 aces, BYU claimed Friday’s game before a late position change from senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin propelled UCLA to avenge the loss with its own five-set triumph.

Smith Fieldhouse, host of the series, welcomed 4,514 and 5,024 fans Friday and Saturday, respectively. Middle blocker Merrick McHenry said the energy and deafening cheers of the Cougar faithful proved to be the Bruins’ kryptonite.

“BYU is a super difficult place to play when it comes to the way the altitude affects our bodies,” the redshirt senior said. “Their crowd is pretty loud, and it is the loudest gym I’ve ever been in. It was a good experience for us having a team with a super good crowd, and it pushed us a lot, and I feel like it made us super uncomfortable this weekend.”

Outside of the atmosphere, fatigue shaped the pace and style of both matches. Provo’s lofty altitude of 4,551 feet may have negatively affected the Bruins, but back-to-back five-set affairs took their own toll on the squads.

But coach John Speraw said extenuating circumstances weren’t enough to undermine the depth of this year’s Bruins.

“These back-to-back matches present some challenges to fatigue, and playing at higher altitudes combined with all of the energy that goes into the first nine trying to get back out there on the second,” Speraw said. “Our depth has really made a difference in these back-to-back matches, and we have seen that multiple times this year.”

The team’s depth was pivotal in the second match as Champlin – who started in the libero position – moved to outside hitter in the fourth set and proved the difference-maker Saturday night. The veteran struck at a .650 clip and notched all 14 of his kills in the final two frames to cement UCLA’s victory.

(Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin scans his opponents’ side of the court. The veteran chalked up 14 kills in the final two frames of Saturday’s affair to cement UCLA men’s volleyball’s victory. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Champlin said his victory-clinching performance came after a night he was off his game.

“Friday night, I was pretty disappointed in my performance. I definitely felt like I let the team down,” Champlin said. “I couldn’t have had any type of performance that I had Saturday without my teammates encouraging me, telling me that they trust me and that they have my back. They allowed me to play free instead of thinking about the match last night.”

Redshirt senior outside hitter Alex Knight stepped in to fill the libero position after Champlin took his usual pin-hitting responsibilities. Knight is the fifth Bruin to man the position this season as the libero role continues to be a point of contention for UCLA.

Champlin wasn’t the only outside hitter to reach double-digit kills. Sophomore Zach Rama continued his string of 10-plus kill affairs, adding 21 on Friday on a .563 clip.

However, Rama’s efforts weren’t enough, as the Bruins still picked up their first MPSF loss over the weekend.

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Connor Dullinger
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