2023 MPSF Men's Volleyball Championship

Red-Hot UCLA Volleyball Welcomes Pressure At 2023 MPSF Championship

Red-Hot UCLA Volleyball Welcomes Pressure At 2023 MPSF Championship

A dominant 2023 season for UCLA volleyball send the Bruins into the MPSF Championship looking to keep growing, and do so while under pressure.

Apr 15, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
Red-Hot UCLA Volleyball Welcomes Pressure At 2023 MPSF Championship

At the stretch run of what has been an outstanding 2023 season for UCLA volleyball, Bruins coach John Speraw does not just acknowledge pressure; he embraces it. 

"I'm excited to get to some matches where there's going to be more on the line, and to see teams play their best volleyball against us," Speraw said ahead of the 2023 MPSF Championship. "I'm looking forward to being pressured." 

UCLA, ranked second in the AVCA poll, has been dominant throughout the campaign. The Bruins are undefeated in MPSF competition ahead of the league tournament, running away with the regular-season title, and have only lost matches to No. 3-ranked Penn State and top-ranked Hawaii — both of which were on the road. 

But when regular season gives way to tournament time, the level of competition intensifies. UCLA knows that well. 

The Bruins stormed to the top record in the MPSF a year ago, besting rival USC by three games in the standings. As host of the MPSF Championship, UCLA dropped the semifinal match to Stanford, three sets to two. The abrupt exit from the 2022 tournament isn't any kind of additional motivator for the Bruins, but does serve as reminder of postseason stakes. 

"It seems like a very different year to me, different group of guys, different energy and vibe on the team," Speraw said of 2022 vs. 2023. "I hope maybe we learned some lessons from last year that they can apply, but I don't think necessarily they're out to prove anything." 

UCLA has proven plenty throughout the season, both from contributors who were present for last year and from newcomers. Middle blocker Merrick McHenry, one of the Bruin veterans, leads the MPSF in hitting percentage, and is among the league's best in both blocks and aces. 

He has company among his UCLA teammates in each category from fellow veterans Ethan Champlin, Alex Knight, and 2022 freshmen phenoms-turned-super sophomores Ido David and Guy Genis. 

On offense, the experienced corps has been excellent all season — and perhaps most impressively, has made collective strides throughout the campaign with plenty more potential for growth, per Speraw. 

A key factor there is that while UCLA has no shortage of experience, a true freshman in Andrew Rowan mans the setter position. 

"We're constantly trying to refine routes, build connection, add a route or two," Speraw said. "There's still a lot of meat on the bone, and we're going to continue to improve on that through the rest of the year.

"He's been the most impressive young setter that I've ever been around," Speraw added of Rowan. "He's got a confidence about him that doesn't seem to be affected by a lot of the circumstances that he's found himself in at a young age. I don't worry about him at all in this moment." 

Rowan's averaging 9.6 assists per set through April 14. The first-year Bruin has also been strong in service with 42 aces — and Speraw said Rowan can only get better in that phase of the game. 

Continued improvement, even as it keeps dominant, should serve UCLA well in the NCAA Tournament. Before then, the Bruins welcome any pressure that comes before than at the MPSF Championship.