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UCLA men’s volleyball builds increasing fan base as sport grows

The Bruin faithful roar in celebration after UCLA men’s volleyball scores a point. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

By Amelie Ionescu

April 9, 2024 12:49 p.m.

There’s consistently a throng of fans standing outside the Bruin locker room.

From children hiding behind their parents’ legs to middle and high schoolers peppering in large groups to college-age students waiting for pictures, dozens linger in Pauley Pavilion long after a match has ended for a glimpse of UCLA men’s volleyball.

It’s not a unique phenomenon by any means – almost anyone who could meet their favorite athletes would do the same.

But it’s an expanded one for the current Bruin squad, which sees a consistently growing line of fans waiting for it.

[Related: Battle of the Editors: Which UCLA team is the most anticipated ahead of upcoming seasons?]

Redshirt junior Grant Sloane summarized his feelings on the matter in two words.

“It’s awesome,” the outside hitter said.

Touting the fourth-highest average and accumulated attendance in the nation at 1,797 and 21,558, respectively, the Bruins’ fan base has grown slowly and steadily – their average game attendance up by almost 200 since last year and 500 since before the pandemic.

Dating back to the beginning of the season, young athletes have approached the players with merchandise caught during the game or brought beforehand. Senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin greets each fan with a smile, signing his name alongside the plethora of other names on the mini volleyball.

“Even right where we are right now, we’ve got a bunch of looks, like high school and middle school guys clapping for us as we come out after a game,” Sloane said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this many guys down on the court wanting to take pictures. It’s just another cherry on top of why it’s so great to play here at UCLA.”

It’s not just after a match that fans command the players’ attention. Sloane, who stepped into a starting role earlier this season, ran down the front row of seats giving high-fives to youth players between sets in UCLA’s last home match.

On Friday, the blue and gold-decked crowd was rowdy after a Grand Canyon player yelled at them to “shut up” – with a few added expletives – after smashing a block to tie up the second frame and halt an escalating UCLA run.

[Related: UCLA men’s volleyball secures conference lead with 5-set Grand Canyon victory]

“Love the Bruin family,” said redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson. “The squad came out to represent tonight (Friday), and I think volleyball is growing as a sport. It’s great to see more and more fans every game.”

The student section – although occasionally sprinkled with individuals donning the opposing team’s colors – has also been vocal, from egging opponents on during their serve with various chirps and songs to cheering on UCLA at any given opportunity.

But throughout it all, coach John Speraw and his squad have stayed humble.

“Our crowds this year have been great,” Speraw said. “Mostly I’m just grateful people are spending their time to come and watch. It’s been awesome for the guys. Love to see Pauley with this kind of energy – very excited for everybody.”

Whether it’s the social media exposure or the team’s No. 2 ranking, UCLA men’s volleyball is growing in popularity across both age groups and friend groups.

Pauley Pavilion isn’t the only stadium impacted by the growth of the sport. The Bruins spent hours post-match at the First Point Collegiate Challenge in Austin, Texas, signing autographs and greeting young fans.

“There’s nothing better you could ask for, nothing more that you could ask for,” Sloane said. “To play a volleyball match – it’s the most fun environment ever.”

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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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