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Ira’s Intuition: UCLA men’s volleyball sophomore trio crushes, crumples, cuts its competition

The Bruins’ sophomore trifecta – redshirt outside hitter Cooper Robinson (left), setter Andrew Rowan (middle) and outside hitter Zach Rama (right) are pictured. (Left to right: Yiming Ren/Daily Bruin, Jeremy Chen/Photo editor, Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

By Ira Gorawara

April 16, 2024 3:43 p.m.

This post was updated April 16 at 8:36 p.m.

Rock, paper, scissors.

Its beauty lies in its simplicity and universality, an apt game to break the monotony of dull moments.

Each of the three elements – rock, paper and scissors – relies on a dynamic interaction. There’s no victory for rock without scissors, for scissors without paper or for paper without rock. Each has a stake in the others’ fortune, mimicking a perpetual game of cosmic balance.

And although two elements must take a hit for one to prevail, the three devices coalesce to deliver greater rewards.

UCLA men’s volleyball has a sophomore trio delivering rewards for coach John Speraw.

The rock – redshirt outside hitter Cooper Robinson. The paper – outside hitter Zach Rama. And the scissors – setter Andrew Rowan.

Without literally taking one another down, the Bruins’ trifecta has helped the team finish the regular season on an 11-game win streak, clinch the No. 1 seed in the MPSF tournament and complete a Bruin squad so deep to be nearly impenetrable.

UCLA’s sophomore triad will be the catalyst for postseason glory – a national championship rerun.

Rock

The rock cycle spans over wide timescales.

From formation, to weathering and erosion, to transportation, to deposition, to compaction and cementation, the process takes millions of years.

But UCLA’s rock compressed millions to one.

After redshirting his inaugural season in Westwood, Robinson accumulated just 19 kills in his first year with the team. Three games echoed a string of zero tallies across all statistical categories, as he failed to piece together more than two kills in each MPSF bout.

He was entirely overshadowed – both in age and role.

Rowan basked solo in the freshman limelight last year. Robinson wasn’t up to the mark of his counterpart. And redshirt senior Alex Knight, senior Ethan Champlin and junior Ido David reigned supreme in the realm of outside hitters.

But after being relegated to the back burner, Robinson shined through the shadow cast over him.

Robinson is just one kill shy of leading the Bruins in the category, boasting 189 on the season, a nearly tenfold increase from last season’s dismal 19. His name features on the Bruins’ top five in blocks, digs and aces this season – the only sophomore to achieve the feat.

Robinson’s prowess through the net is menacing and is escalating faster than the rock cycle can predict.

(Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)
Rama bounds into the air to slam down a kill. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

Paper

Paper, whether noticed or not, is omnipresent – quietly facilitating countless tasks. Few things can replace its use. And those uses are multifold.

UCLA teetered on the edge of succumbing to a fifth set against USC earlier this season. After a muted first set performance, Rama knocked down seven kills in the second frame and six in the third and snapped an oscillating rally late in the fourth to send his crosstown rivals home empty-handed.

Rama also carved in 16 kills that night, striking at a .480 clip to lead all scorers. In the Bruins’ narrow five-set loss to BYU, Rama cemented his authority with 21 kills off just 32 attempts.

When postseason hurdles loom large at UCLA, Rama will be the first to grab the baton, lead the relay and hand each of his teammates the fruits of triumph.

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
Beaming from ear to ear, Rowan saunters to his teammate. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Scissors

The danger of using a seemingly innocuous instrument is overlooked – the potential for injury is ever-present. With bullseye precision, scissors can create the most masterful of crafts. And they do. But with that comes the risk of serious affliction.

The Bruins have their own pair of scissors.

He’s not one that children need to be cautious around. And he’s not one to literally inflict wounds.

But it’s a different narrative for his adversaries.

Rowan is arguably the final and most pivotal puzzle piece of Speraw’s lineup. He embodies the qualities of scissors – precise, speedy, agile. In an unprecedented turn of events, last year’s veteran setter Miles Partain parted ways with the squad, creating a void left only for the then-freshman to quickly fill.

A newcomer to a serious title-contending squad emerged from obscurity to assume the mantle of the First Team All-American. And his capability to make split-second decisions – whether it be delivering a flawless pass to a hitter or outfoxing the defense and dumping the ball over the net – smoothened the transition.

Rowan is the second-youngest among the nation’s top 10 in assists per set and has manifested his ability to exploit gaps on the other side of the net to manufacture openings for his team – leading it to the nation’s highest hitting percentage.

UCLA’s hitters aren’t shy to praise their setter’s versatility. The Bruin scissor has a deft hand sculpting the squad’s path to taste victory once again.

In a game of rock, paper, scissors, players are forced to choose just one.

But Speraw isn’t held to those rules when it comes to Robinson, Rama and Rowan.

When the trio takes the court, triumph is impending for UCLA.

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Ira Gorawara | Sports editor
Gorawara is the 2024-2025 Sports editor on the football, men’s basketball and NIL beats and a Copy contributor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men’s volleyball, men’s tennis, women’s volleyball and rowing beats and a contributor on the men’s volleyball and rowing beats. She is a rising third-year economics and communication student minoring in professional writing from Hong Kong.
Gorawara is the 2024-2025 Sports editor on the football, men’s basketball and NIL beats and a Copy contributor. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men’s volleyball, men’s tennis, women’s volleyball and rowing beats and a contributor on the men’s volleyball and rowing beats. She is a rising third-year economics and communication student minoring in professional writing from Hong Kong.
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