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UCLA men’s volleyball NCAA tournament predictions 2024

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cooper Robinson (left), redshirt senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry (middle) and junior outside hitter/opposite Ido David (right) are pictured. The three hitters are key offensive aces for UCLA men’s volleyball. (Photos by Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin, Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff, Zimo Li/Daily Bruin. Illustration by Lindsey Murto/Assistant Design director)

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

April 28, 2024 4:35 p.m.

This post was updated April 28 at 9:49 p.m.

No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball (23-5, 11-1 MPSF) dropped just one game in its conference slate en route to an 11-match winning streak to close its regular season. Despite falling short in the MPSF finals, the Bruins secured the No. 1 seed in this week’s NCAA tournament and will meet No. 8 seed Fort Valley State (17-8, 10-0 SIAC) in the quarterfinals Tuesday. Daily Bruin Sports men’s volleyball beat predicts the team’s fortune in its quest to repeat as national champions.

Anthony Aroyan
Daily Bruin staff
Prediction: Loss in the finals

Playoff volleyball is fast, physical and highly competitive.

Most importantly, it’s a game of rhythm.

UCLA men’s volleyball has struggled to find rhythm in critical moments of the season. The Bruins have the tools at their disposal to repeat as national champions, but their defeat in the MPSF finals – the proverbial punch in the gut – may affect how they respond at the next level.

Should top-seeded UCLA reach the finale, its likely opponent will be No. 2 seed Long Beach State. After coach John Speraw’s title-winning squad swept them in the 2023 NCAA semifinals, the Beach returned with a vengeance this season – going 25-2 and hoisting the Big West banner last weekend.

UCLA and Long Beach split the regular season series as both teams won at their respective home arenas in four sets. The Beach’s edge playing on home hardwood through the national tournament could lead to a repeat of the last time the Bruins traveled to the Walter Pyramid.

For the Bruins, middle blocker Merrick McHenry was the team’s joint leader with 21 kills through the series. The redshirt senior’s performance this season earned him MPSF Player of the Year honors and the program’s career solo-block record.

Statistically, the Beach lead the nation in blocks per set with 3.23. Middle blocker Simon Torwie is the greatest contributor to that metric with a nation-high 1.37 blocks per set and 112 total blocks, good for third in the country.

Long Beach could turn UCLA’s dream of repeating as national champions into a nightmare.

(Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)
Members of UCLA men’s volleyball pick up their teammate, sophomore outside hitter Zach Rama. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

Connor Dullinger
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: NCAA champions

UCLA has struggled in five-set matches this season.

In eight five-set matches this season, the Bruins are at an even split – four wins and four losses, with the defeats accounting for four of the season’s five losses. In the postseason’s do-or-die stage, clutch play may determine a team’s fate.

Despite its difficulty closing out matches, performance behind the line and at the net allowed UCLA to claim two or more sets in every match but one. As a team, UCLA is ranked top five in the nation in aces per set, assists per set, blocks per set and hitting percentage.

Individually, the Bruins have carved their names into various statistical categories. In the passing department, sophomore setter Andrew Rowan ranks among the nation’s top six in total assists. McHenry slates in as the nation’s top 20 in hitting percentage.

No. 2 seed Long Beach State poses the greatest threat to UCLA’s hopes of a repeat, as it forced one of UCLA’s five losses on the season. The Beach were the only foe to hold the Bruins to a victory in just one set – and are entering the tournament on the heels of a red-hot streak featuring 15 wins in their last 16 competitions.

With six Bruins receiving All-MPSF honors – including the MPSF Player of the Year in McHenry, the Bruins have the personnel and squad depth to secure a back-to-back national title.

The intermingling of the team’s cohesiveness and individual caliber will ensure UCLA caps its season off with confetti once again.

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
Coach John Speraw speaks to his team during a match. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Amelie Ionescu
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: Loss in the first round

Let me be clear – this is not a pragmatic prediction.

It’s not a realistic one.

There are myriad ways in which UCLA feasibly can dip out of the tournament early, and yet, a loss to the No. 8 seed is likely not one of them.

Dynasties topple. UCLA men’s basketball didn’t manage to snatch a playoff berth from the jaws of a dying season. Men’s tennis and women’s soccer fell early in their respective postseasons. Stanford passed UCLA in national trophies held in 2017, and the gap has only increased.

In 2023, every writer believed the team would win. After all, at that point, the Bruins were the first team to sweep the MPSF since they last did so in 1996, had lost just 16 sets through the regular season and cruised through the conference tournament.

But even with six starters returning, the castle crumbled – Jan. 19, Jan. 25, Feb. 9, Feb. 23, Apr. 20. Brick by brick by brick by brick by brick.

I cannot tell you when or even if the final brick will fall and my cowriters are split. So, it might as well be Tuesday. Fort Valley State’s best outside hitter, Isaiah Fedd, will give it an edge it lacked in the early season. The team has been on a tear, going undefeated in the SIAC and boasting six straight wins to cap off the season.

But of course, it will most likely be Thursday against UC Irvine or Penn State, who both brought UCLA to five earlier in the season, or Saturday against Grand Canyon, Ohio State or Long Beach State, all of whom bested UCLA in 2024. And if the Bruins hoist the trophy back-to-back – keeping up a decade-long collegiate men’s volleyball tradition – then maybe the fortress will still stand tall.

Men’s volleyball used to be more predictable than other sports – last year, I explicitly stated that May isn’t March. But the circle of parity has grown so heavily that for the first time writing predictions, I just threw a dart at the bracket and picked the option where it stuck.

So let me be the first – and likely only – person to say UCLA will bow out early to Fort Valley State in a hard-fought five-set battle, an Achilles heel of its season.

(Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)
The Bruins huddle after dropping a point. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

Ira Gorawara
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: Loss in the finals

I scribbled in my MPSF tournament prediction before even writing my name.

I was so sure.

Speraw had all the parts – including a long-awaited confirmation of his libero – and at least one win against every team in the conference.

Two, back-to-back, against the team’s eventual overlords in the conference finale – Grand Canyon.

But it was all for naught. UCLA couldn’t attain conference sovereignty for a consecutive year.

The Bruins couldn’t hold their own on the most decisive stage – striking at its third-worst hitting clip, ripping just five aces for its third-worst of the season and committing 24 errors behind the line. The Lopes suffocated the Bruins – the 2023 MPSF victors jumped to 2-0 leads in four of five sets, something Speraw said forecasted the bout’s result of the bout.

So this time, I wrote my name first.

In fact, I took almost three days to start writing.

And I couldn’t find the conviction to predict anything beyond a finals loss, likely to second-seeded Long Beach State.

Aroyan explained it in depth above. So I don’t need to repeat it. But as a reminder, the Bruins dropped a four-set decision to the Beach earlier this season. It’s their only match at Walter Pyramid.

UCLA surrendered its conference crown to Grand Canyon on neutral ground at the Galen Center.

So, with the team’s only affair at Walter Pyramid culminating in its quickest loss of the season, the crystal ball struggles to project the reverse transpiring on a stage that carries the same – if not more – stakes than it did April 20 against the Lopes.

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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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