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Reigning conference champions UCLA men’s volleyball return to MPSF finals

Four Bruins converge to celebrate after scoring a point in the MPSF semifinals. With a sweep of USC in the bout, UCLA men’s volleyball has advanced to the conference finals. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Volleyball

Grand Canyon
Saturday, 6 p.m.

Galen Center

By Anthony Aroyan

April 20, 2024 10:19 a.m.

One match between remains between the Bruins and a conference title – and a shot at history.

No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball (23-4, 11-1 MPSF) will face No. 2 seed Grand Canyon (24-4, 10-2) in the MPSF finals Saturday night. A victory for the Bruins would propel them to repeat as conference champions for the first time since 2001.

Grand Canyon earned a spot in the championship match after beating No. 4 seed Stanford in four sets. In that match, opposite Camden Gianni recorded 17 kills and 10 digs while also leading the team in service aces with three. The Lopes finish the season undefeated against all conference opponents besides the Bruins – who swept the season series – and have a chance to exact revenge on a do-or-die stage.

“We’re just going to continue to say ‘ok, how do we execute?’” said coach John Speraw following the team’s semifinal victory over USC. “‘How do we perform under pressure? How do we get a little bit better on our side of it? How we respond to things like that is a valuable opportunity.”

The Bruins faced the Lopes two weeks ago in a doubleheader, where the former claimed both home affairs.

Despite the back-to-back UCLA wins, the matches told two different stories. The hosts bulldozed through their adversaries in a sweep on the first night. Afterward, however, the Lopes recuperated in the to force a five-setter on night two.

Throughout the series, redshirt senior Merrick McHenry finished as the team’s leading scorer with 19 combined kills. The middle blocker was also a joint leader in kills, with 10 in the conference semifinal and led the team with five digs, two days after picking up MPSF Player of the Year honors.

“There was that pressure (to repeat as champions) in the beginning of the year,” McHenry said. “There is that sense of pressure, but it also gives us confidence and clarity for the matches. I definitely think it’s something in the back of our minds, it’s awesome.”

Echoing the veteran’s success, redshirt sophomore Cooper Robinson has extended his breakout season to the playoffs. The outside hitter tied McHenry with 10 kills against the Trojans on Thursday, and is a joint leader in the category with 199 kills this season – tied with senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin.

“I think if we’re all playing free and happy we’re unstoppable,” Robinson said. “We want it, we want to be back-to-back champions. Winning is super important to us, no matter what game we’re playing.”

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