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UCLA men’s volleyball defeats Grand Canyon to tie for No. 1 conference standing

Redshirt junior outside hitter Grant Sloane, redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson elevate for a block against a Grand Canyon outside hitter. The Bruins took down the Antelopes on Friday night to tie for the No. 1 position in MPSF standings. (Lex Wang/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Men's Volleyball

No. 3 Grand Canyon0
No. 2 UCLA3

By Amelie Ionescu

April 6, 2024 12:37 p.m.

It’s not fun being second.

But while the No. 2 overall ranking holds starkly above UCLA men’s volleyball’s (19-4, 8-1 MPSF) head, the team leapt to a tie for first in the conference standings after a 3-0 whopping of No. 3 Grand Canyon (20-3, 8-1).

Pauley Pavilion rang with cheers and jeers throughout the first set, where back-to-back blocks pushed the Bruins into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, eventually capped off by a service ace from setter Andrew Rowan – one of three on the night for the sophomore and eight on the night for the team.

“We got off to a nice start,” said coach John Speraw. “They came back and played a lot better through the middle of the second, made a couple plays late, and then we got off to a nice start again on the third.”

A lot lay on the line for both sides of the court come Friday’s matchup. Formerly undefeated in MPSF play, Grand Canyon entered the night on top of the conference standings after UCLA dropped a tight match to then-No. 8 BYU earlier in the season.

A win for the Antelopes would have likely solidified them the No. 1 seed – and first round bye – for the conference tournament less than four weeks and three matches away. Meanwhile, a win for the Bruins meant preserving their hopes of sitting atop the MPSF standings for the third consecutive year.

(Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson attempts a kill against three Antelope blockers. Robinson hit at a season-high .778 clip Friday night. (Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)

“We took them very seriously this week,” said redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson. “We watched film every morning, and we had a lot of good prep work, and we were extremely energetic, and we came out and just played our ball, and it went very well.”

Last season – for the first time since before the turn of the century – an MPSF team went undefeated in conference play throughout the regular season. UCLA’s run was so dominant, in fact, that it only dropped three sets of 36 played.

The same success didn’t hold true early in 2024, but Friday’s top-three victory proved the Bruins – bolstered by reigning AVCA Newcomer of the Year Rowan and rising newcomers such as Robinson and redshirt junior outside hitter Grant Sloane – were still a force to be reckoned with.

“Rowan, when we’re on, it’s unbeatable, and he was setting me some great balls tonight,” Robinson said. “We passed very well, which makes hitting a lot easier. I think I only took one out of system swing, so it felt very easy and fun. I was very excited about that.”

Robinson hit for eight kills and one error in nine attempts, buttressing the Bruins’ hitting percentage – already top in the nation – to .441 for the match.

Nevertheless, Speraw saw the most impact for the outside hitter on the block.

“He did great,” Speraw said. “Particularly early, blocking he did a really nice job. We had a good night of blocking. … One of the better nights of the year, so it was a big part of that. But offensively was great, too. I mean, all in all, great match.”

A massacre of a first set gave way to a much closer second slate, marred by back-to-back attack errors from the Bruins to give the Antelopes their largest margin of the entire night, at 19-16. But UCLA’s response was quick – retaking the lead only four points later to clinch the frame 25-22.

The closest set of the night had both the crowd and the teams energized. Grand Canyon substitute outside hitter Jordan Lucas notched a kill for his only point of the night to tie the bout, yelling back at the excitable Bruin crowd in triumph.

(Lex Wang/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Sloane slams Friday’s game-winning kill to cement the Bruin sweep in the two teams’ first bout of their season doubleheader. (Lex Wang/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Sloane bolstered the Bruins from every angle, tallying a match-high 10 kills on a .381 clip and team-high four digs, while tacking on three block assists and an ace. His last kill of the third frame completed the sweep with UCLA leading in every statistical category bar digs.

“We’re expecting them to come back tomorrow (Saturday) with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, and we expect them to play hard, and we’re going to prepare just as hard as we did for this first match,” Sloane said. “We’re not going to have any let up for them when we see them the second time, and we’ll be ready to go.”

While Friday may have set the tie, Saturday will break it, leaving the squad that emerges with a victory in sole position of first place in the MPSF.

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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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