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UCLA men’s volleyball MPSF tournament predictions 2024

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson, redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry, senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin and sophomore setter Andrew Rowan are pictured. The four are mainstays on the UCLA men’s volleyball roster. (Photos by Zimo Li / Daily Bruin, Darlene Sanzon / Daily Bruin and Yiming Ren / Daily Bruin. Illustration by Mia Tavares / Assistant Design director)

By Ira Gorawara, Connor Dullinger, Anthony Aroyan, and Amelie Ionescu

April 16, 2024 12:50 p.m.

This post was updated April 16 at 8:51 p.m.

No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball (22-4, 11-1 MPSF) attained a first-round bye to propel itself directly into Thursday’s semifinal against Wednesday’s winner of No. 4 seed Pepperdine and No. 5 seed Stanford. The Daily Bruin Sports men’s volleyball beat forecasts where they think the Bruins will land and if a conference title rerun is in the offering.

Anthony Aroyan
Daily Bruin staff
Prediction: MPSF Champions

Magic and Kareem, Maldini and Nesta, Mahomes and Kelce.

Sports loves a good dynamic duo.

Following an 11-1 record in the conference, with its sole loss coming in a five-set defeat to BYU, UCLA men’s volleyball is in position to repeat as conference champions for the first time since 2000 and 2001.

But two components lie at the forefront of repeating last year’s postseason success: The Bruins’ passing game and coach John Speraw’s lead distributor, Andrew Rowan. After assuming the starting role midway through the 2023 campaign, the sophomore setter provided consistent service for his hitters, leading UCLA to the No. 1 hitting percentage in the nation.

That success has been replicated this season. The Bruins remain atop the standings for hitting percentage at .373, while Rowan ranks second in the conference for assists per set at 10.14.

Rowan’s contributions are amplified by the skill of his attackers. While the Bruin outside hitters are more than formidable, the X-factor of UCLA’s hitting comes off the hands of middle blocker Merrick McHenry. The redshirt senior leads the MPSF in hitting percentage with .577, proving his efficiency whenever the ball comes his way.

Throughout the season, Speraw has routinely emphasized service pressure as a core tenet of his philosophy – a challenge Rowan and McHenry have risen to. The two rank first and second in the team for service aces at 34 and 31, respectively, and guided their team to ranking third in the nation in aces per set with 2.01.

When the Bruins rock up to the Galen Center on Thursday, the duo’s execution may be the difference between a Saturday appearance or a journey back to the drawing board.

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
Senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin rockets into the air to drill down the ball over the net. Beyond Champlin, UCLA’s hitting roster teems with depth. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Connor Dullinger
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: MPSF Champions

One year removed from a conference and national championship, UCLA is returning with a squad of both familiar and foreign faces.

Another familiar: The key to the team’s success.

Roster depth characterized the success of last season’s title-winning squad – and the same goes for this year.

Although the Bruins initially struggled to fill the void left by libero Troy Gooch, Speraw has found his fix – a rotation of redshirt senior outside hitter Alex Knight and redshirt sophomore libero Matthew Aziz. The solidification of the lineup fell in line with the team’s 11-game win streak – its longest of the season.

But the cornerstone of UCLA’s depth is embodied by its pin hitters.

Five Bruin hitters have eclipsed triple-digit kills on the regular season. The band is led by the experience of senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin – who has returned from his short stint at libero. In his breakout season, redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson has skyrocketed his offensive production nearly tenfold since last year.

And if these two attackers are off, redshirt junior outside hitter Grant Sloane, junior outside hitter Ido David and sophomore outside hitter Zach Rama are on.

As reigning national champions, UCLA ranks first or second in six out of the seven major statistical categories.

But while numbers may lie, it will all come down to what happens at the Galen Center – probably the same as what happened in Maples Pavilion almost exactly a year ago.

(Vivian Le/Daily Bruin)
Members of UCLA men’s volleyball huddle to celebrate after scoring a point. The Bruins, who rank atop the coaches poll, also have the No. 1 seed in this week’s MPSF tournament. (Vivian Le/Daily Bruin)

Amelie Ionescu
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: MPSF champions

George Orwell’s famous quote has transcended generations and nations – landing squarely at UCLA.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

All teams are good, but some teams are simply better. And Speraw’s Bruins – fortunately or unfortunately – prove the Napoleon of this metaphor, albeit a better-intentioned version.

Reigning MPSF champion UCLA sits in the top five nationwide for aces per set, assists per set and blocks per set. Stanford and Pepperdine, the most probable semifinal candidates, are as threatening on paper as Orwell’s Clover and Boxer. And while UCLA’s novel could have a different ending, Animal Farm notes that history tends to repeat itself.

The season has returned full circle for the Bruins, who, while not as dominant as they were in 2023, sit atop the final coaches’ poll before the postseason. Touting their longest win streak of the season, they have the momentum, the depth – covered considerably by my co-writers above – and the first-round bye to assuage fatigue and guarantee victory in the semifinals.

From there, BYU or Grand Canyon will likely be UCLA’s title game matchup. While both teams forced the Bruins to five sets in the regular season, only the former was able to snag a victory and shatter hopes of a perfect blue and gold MPSF record.

Nevertheless, the veteran UCLA squad will outpace and overwhelm to clinch its desired result.

Conference play will end with scissors once more.

(Juliet Zhang/Daily Bruin)
Setter Andrew Rowan and redshirt outside hitter Cooper Robinson high-five a teammate. The two sophomores have stepped up to the plate for coach John Speraw this season. (Juliet Zhang/Daily Bruin)

Ira Gorawara
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: MPSF champions

Kudos to you for reading this far.

MPSF champions, MPSF champions, MPSF champions.

My co-writers made the point pretty clear already.

We’ve belabored the point. But allow me to reiterate for good measure.

UCLA men’s volleyball will, for the first time in 23 years, repeat as conference champions.

Honestly, when Speraw’s unit lost its third game just over a month into the season, quickly eclipsing 2023’s total losses, I couldn’t respond favorably when asked, “Is MVB good this year?”

But since the Bruins’ loss to Long Beach State on Feb. 9, the squad has been on a tear, registering just one loss in 15 games. And that winning stretch included at least one thumping of every single MPSF squad.

So now, it’s pretty much a reflexive response – “Yes, obviously.” Send.

UCLA has raced through this season’s gauntlet of challenges, whether that’s the technicalities of addressing roster gaps and igniting multiple breakout seasons, or simply the spectacle of outclassing every MPSF foe.

With almost the entirety of last year’s squad intact, the reliable pillars of McHenry, Champlin and Knight sustained their cornerstone production. And with the explosive emergence of UCLA’s sophomore trifecta – Robinson, Rama and Rowan – Speraw has fortified his 2023 Bruin arsenal.

When good things get better, a victory lap becomes a victory marathon.

UCLA’s second leg begins Thursday.

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Ira Gorawara | Assistant Sports editor
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
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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