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UCLA men’s volleyball downs Long Beach to seize back-to-back titles

Confetti rains on players, coaches and staff of UCLA men’s volleyball after the team clinched the 2024 NCAA title, its second national championship in as many years. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Men’s volleyball


No. 2 seed Long Beach1
No. 1 seed UCLA3

By Ira Gorawara

May 4, 2024 6:56 p.m.

This post was updated May 5 at 9:50 p.m.

LONG BEACH – A huddle disbanded as limbs collapsed to Walter Pyramid’s floor in sheer jubilation.

Senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin, his final swing now adorned in glory, side-stepped to his fall on the service line. 

The ball cradled in Skyler Varga’s palms at the net as he arced the ball back toward the Bruins. 

It took a moment. 

The Beach’s outside hitter paused for contemplation – followed by an unforgiving grasp of reality as his eyes drank in a vibrant mound of blue and gold rejoicing on his home floor.

Back on two feet, a cascade of confetti showered down as No. 1 seed UCLA men’s volleyball (26-5, 11-1 MPSF) bulldozed through No. 2 seed Long Beach State (27-3, 9-1 Big West) to etch its name into the annals of history as 2024 national champions. Its hardware – marking its second in as many years – commemorates a half-century since UCLA first basked in national glory away from Westwood.

“What we really wanted to be was a bunch of sewer rats,” said coach John Speraw. “We want to wallow in the muck and crap, and we just want to be able to come out on the other side and not be bothered by anything that isn’t important.”

Runs often catapult into offensive surges – prompting a reflexive timeout and compelling a team to regather and respond. 

Long Beach unleashed its scoring stint to commence Saturday afternoon’s duel. Surging from barren ground in the first set, the squad rustled up a 5-0 run as Speraw expended both of UCLA’s timeouts midway through the frame. 

“The first story was the amount of guts we had to be down early in their gym against the team that was feeling pretty good early,” Speraw said. “I thought (it) was a complete and total team effort and a tremendous start to the match.” 

The home team assembled its largest lead at a similar stage – suffocating junior outside hitter/opposite Ido David’s swing on the right side to slingshot its way to 12-9. 

But runs are fractional. Five points is a fragment of a set and a trifle tally to a match’s finishing count. 

Champlin, initiating his eventual Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament exhibition, drilled four of his eventual 15 kills in the first set alone. Putting the finishing touches on the first frame, UCLA ignited its charge to back-to-back national titles with a 25-21 thumping.

“There’s a phrase that goes, ‘All gave some, some gave all.’ I didn’t have anything left to give in that fourth set,” Champlin said, wiping away tears. “I was lightheaded, I couldn’t feel my legs. … Just to be here, it means a lot to me.”

Outside hitter Ethan Champlin elevates and reels his arm back for a kill. The senior, in his final contest for UCLA, notched a team-high 15 kills alongside four digs and six blocks. (Eden Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

The winningest program in NCAA history – now with trophy No. 21 – boasted three Bruins in double-digit kill tallies. Champlin’s long-time teammate Merrick McHenry maintained his stature as the nation’s leading hitter, striking above .500, hammering in 10 kills off 11 swings and accumulating a .722 clip through the NCAA tournament. 

“That guy (McHenry) should be MVP – it’s unfortunate that he’s so good all the time because when he hits .818, he still doesn’t get MVP,” Champlin said.

Long Beach, reeling at two sets down, was forced to capture three consecutive sets, leaving a trail of history in its wake. 

A crucial juncture: The third set loomed as an opportunity for the Bruins to wield their brooms or for the Beach to fasten their life jackets and prolong their lifeline. 

Two years ago, Long Beach scripted a tale of redemption with an NCAA semifinal reverse sweep over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. And Thursday, history echoed through coach Alan Knipe’s unit as it rewound the clock against Grand Canyon, ensuring a national title berth after clawing back from a two-set deficit. 

So a 29-27 third-set overtime escape also scribbled the first chapter of Long Beach’s familiar narrative. 

Beach outside hitter Clarke Godbold and Varga emerged in tandem to register nine kills through the third frame. On the other side of the court, errors poured in as David found his ball entangled at the net, followed by a redshirt junior middle blocker Guy Genis’ stifled offensive maneuver. 

As his strike went awry, veering to the hands of middle blocker DiAeris McRaven, Long Beach wrote its opening chapter. 

But a storybook ending it was not. 

From the hardwood to the faithful, scissors and confetti would not fade from sight. 

Laughter rippled, and mockery bubbled up from fans clad in blue, seeking to taunt Aidan Knipe – the son of Long Beach’s coach – on the court. 

“Daddy’s watching,” Bruin fans jeered. 

The 6-foot-3 setter bore the brunt of ceaseless derision for his shorter stature, granting him no respite whenever the ball landed in his hands. He ultimately posted 38 assists, his lowest through any four-set contest of the season. 

“First of all, there’s a reason they’re (UCLA men’s volleyball) here, there’s a reason they’re playing for the national championship,” Aidan Knipe said. “They served the ball great, played good blocking defense, out blocked us barely and outdug us barely.”

For father and son, UCLA’s 25-21 engraving of the fourth set whispered a tale of valiant effort met with the sting of defeat.

But for Speraw and his nine upperclassmen, the tinsel-laden waterfall crystallized the school’s 122nd national title. 

“It really has just been the best five years of my life,” McHenry said.

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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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