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Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge: UCLA men’s volleyball exacts revenge over Ohio State

Outside hitter Ethan Champlin rises above the net in UCLA’s sweep over Ohio State. The senior tallied a team-high 10 kills Sunday evening. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)

Men’s Volleyball

No. 8 Ohio State0
No. 4 UCLA3

By Amelie Ionescu

March 10, 2024 7:54 p.m.

This post was updated March 10 at 10:31 p.m.

A pancake.

It wasn’t Ethan Champlin’s flashiest save ever, but the senior outside hitter’s dig propelled the Bruins into a three-point lead that eventually helped clinch the second set.

Champlin proved integral all around, with a team-high 10 kills alongside four digs, as No. 4 UCLA men’s volleyball (16-4, 5-1 MPSF) exacted revenge upon its first loss of the season in No. 8 Ohio State (15-6, 8-2 MIVA) in Pauley Pavilion on Sunday evening. 

[Related: ‘It was an off day’: No. 1 UCLA men’s volleyball falls to No. 4 Ohio State

And in the nation’s biggest weekend of regular season volleyball tournaments, UCLA took the Pac-12/Big Ten Invitational crown after failing to do so at the First Point Collegiate Challenge against identical foes.

The victory proved crucial for more than just bragging rights – after four losses on the season, it helped keep UCLA’s at-large bid alive.

“We lost to them in January, our last non-conference opponent, which has implications at the end of the year, and so the guys were appropriately focused and responded really well to that moment,” coach John Speraw said.

Like in Texas, it was a weekend of upsets in Hawai’i but Los Angeles remained unscathed. While No. 1 GCU fell at the Outrigger Volleyball Invitational to No. 5 UC Irvine – who was defeated a day later by dark horse No. 14 Lewis – the Pac-12/Big Ten Invitational bracket went chalk as No. 8 Ohio State and No. 9 Penn State both bested No. 12 USC but lost to fourth-ranked UCLA.

[Related: Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge: UCLA men’s volleyball defeats Penn State in 5-set battle]

On court, the first set didn’t statistically appear to swing in the Bruins’ favor. From hitting worse to blocking worse to digging worse, the only place UCLA looked marginally better than its foes was behind the line. Two aces – including one by Champlin off the net to take the frame – proved the difference-maker in the Bruins’ 25-23 victory.

“They’re a good passing team,” Champlin said. “So we really got to target the right guy. And it worked out in my favor.”

The second frame? Almost a complete reversal. 

A .364 hitting percentage converted to a .579, three digs catapulted to seven and the Bruins were even able to add two blocks.

Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Sean McQuiggan (left) and senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin (right) elevate for a block. The former posted an .875 hitting clip to help marshal the Bruin victory. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)

Redshirt sophomore Sean McQuiggan, who got the start at middle blocker for the seventh time this season, said UCLA’s consistency and Pauley Pavilion’s atmosphere proved decisive Sunday evening.

“We just kept playing our game,” McQuiggan said. “And over time, Ohio State slowly folded, and then we were able to take over the energy in the building and that’s how we were able to dominate them.”

Ohio State handed UCLA the 2-0 lead on a service error in the most lopsided set of the day. An Achilles heel in all of the Bruins’ losses – their service – anchored Sunday’s victory as they accumulated only 11 errors – their lowest since Jan. 4.  Seven aces accompanied that paltry tally and UCLA went on several key runs from behind the line to clinch its fifth-straight victory.

UCLA’s block came out to play late in the third set, and combined with pressure behind the line, it was too much for Ohio State to overcome. The Buckeyes fell and the Bruins exacted vengeance hitting at a .429 clip while holding their opponents to just under .280.

“You can’t make too many changes to your own individual game, but you can refine your strength,” Champlin said. “So that’s really going to be the key – not trying to do too much, just trying to do the things that we do well, well.”

With only six games left in the regular season, UCLA seems to have cemented a starting lineup – and libero combination – to emerge victorious, a stark contrast to the last time the two teams faced off.

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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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