Nineteen national championships.
Two three-peats and a four-peat to boot.
Or as redshirt sophomore middle blocker Merrick McHenry would say, “O.G. Bruin volleyball.”
“UCLA hasn’t won since I was six,” McHenry said. “We would love to be the team that brings it back.”
As UCLA men’s volleyball (21-4, 11-1 MPSF) begins its pursuit of the school’s 120th NCAA championship on Tuesday against Pepperdine, it will also be chasing a relic of blue and gold history. Despite boasting the nation’s most National Collegiate championships, the Bruins are 16 years removed from their most recent title.
UCLA nabbed a 3-0 victory over Penn State, ending what was then the longest stretch without a championship in program history at six years. Since then, the blue and gold has made the NCAA tournament three times, losing in its first match to eventual champions Ohio State in 2016 and dropping a fifth-set tiebreaker to Long Beach State in the 2018 final.
Coach John Speraw said his team knows there’s history looming over its head.
“These players probably want to represent that history, but it’s also their time,” Speraw said. “We’re going to keep knocking on the door, and I think they have a good shot to open it.”
Speraw, a UCLA middle blocker from 1992 to 1995 and an assistant coach with the Bruins from 1996 until 2002, was part of five Bruin NCAA championship teams. In his 10th year of being the UCLA head coach, Speraw is no stranger to winning titles at the helm either, claiming three championships while leading UC Irvine prior to his tenure in Westwood.
Having played under and coached alongside Al Scates – the fourth-most successful coach in NCAA history in a single sport – Speraw said his former coach’s as well as UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden’s legacies are imparted on the current men’s volleyball program.
“We’re going to be here time and time and time again, and our Bruin alumni are going to be proud of the way we play the game,” Speraw said. “We’re representing Al Scates and that demand to win national championships. We also represent John Wooden and focus on the process and how we are going to be great when your best is needed.”
With his team entering its final stretch of the season, sophomore setter/opposite Miles Partain said his performance in the tournament will be dedicated to Speraw and the coaching staff.
“I’ve been thinking about just making our coaches and all the other staff proud – they work so hard for us,” Partain said. “I just want to make them proud and just do our best and give it all we got.”