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UCLA men’s volleyball prepares for USC contest before postseason curtain call

Middle blocker Merrick McHenry hammers the ball over the net for a kill. The redshirt senior was crowned MPSF Player of the Year on April 16. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

Men's Volleyball


USC
Thursday, 4:30 p.m.

Galen Center
FloSports

By Amelie Ionescu

April 18, 2024 10:39 a.m.

William Shakespeare’s work is often considered timeless.

The famous playwright has touched millions through the endless possibility of interpretation.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

The stage, of course, is the Galen Center on Thursday afternoon, and the players are No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball (22-4, 11-1 MPSF) and No. 6 seed USC (13-14, 3-9). Postseason play – the third act – will commence for what could be the last time for seven Bruin graduates with a host team that just knocked UCLA’s lone conference loss of the season out of contention.

“It’s the best time of the year, it’s what we look forward to all year,” said redshirt senior outside hitter Alex Knight. “The team is feeling good. We’re in a good spot, and I think if we can carry the momentum, … we’ll be in good shape.”

[Related: UCLA men’s volleyball celebrates seniors, sweeps Concordia University Irvine]

After drawing the curtains on their third straight regular season conference title, the Bruins will enter the MPSF tournament with a shot at a second straight postseason crown as well. While last year’s six sets ended with new hats and T-shirts, the year before didn’t prove as fruitful.

History repeats itself – and what version will emerge on the floor, Shakespeare did not cover.

In 2022’s script, the Bruins posted the same regular season conference record as in 2024 – a .917 overall clip. That same year, Stanford upset both UCLA and Grand Canyon to clinch a shot at the title at Pauley Pavilion – another Los Angeles-based arena.

However, coming into 2024, the Bruins returned their entire starting lineup from the 2023 MPSF championship team – providing an experienced and seasoned squad for the postseason.

And middle blocker Guy Genis said the players’ attitude and effort will make the difference.

“We’re going to make sure we bring it every game, doing our best trying to have the best attitude and best effort,” the redshirt junior said. “We’ll do our best together.”

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
The Bruins congregate after scoring a point. They will journey to USC to face the Trojans in the MPSF semifinals Thursday afternoon. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

For the second consecutive year, UCLA’s starting six each garnered All-MPSF mentions with three returning First Team All-MPSF selections – including the MSPF player of the year in redshirt senior Merrick McHenry – and three fresh faces.

UCLA’s standout middle blocker doubles as last year’s MPSF tournament MVP and is on track to become the first-ever Bruin hitting at a career clip over .500.

Coach – or director – John Speraw said his cast will use its Wednesday bye to practice and analyze opponents.

“I’m pleased that we’ll have a chance to go over there and get in our couple days of training,” Speraw said. “We’ll watch the quarterfinal, see how that all shakes out and be ready for whoever we play.”

Speraw’s squad is entering the tournament on its longest win streak of the season, securing the last 11 matches after dropping one in conference play against No. 3 seed BYU – no longer a viable opponent.

Since then, UCLA solidified its libero combination of Knight and redshirt sophomore Matthew Aziz and which of five key pin hitters will see the court in a continuously-changing rotation. The Bruins also lead the conference in aces, blocks, opponent hitting percentage, assists and hitting percentage, while ranking second in kills – the only team in the top two for six of seven statistical categories.

USC is the second-worst team in the conference, touting an overall win/loss clip under .500 and dropping the season series in seven sets to UCLA. The Cougars were the only opponents the Trojans bested in MPSF play outside of the Eagles, who were the first team knocked out of the tournament.

As You Like It may have been a comedy, but finding out whether or not the Bruins’ postseason ends in tragedy will begin Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

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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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