Fort Valley State becomes first HBCU to compete in NCAA Tournament, losses to UCLA

Photo by Vinnie Lopes

Diego Cardona tried his best to hold back his tears during the postmatch news conference.

The magnitude of what the Fort Valley State libero just experienced finally hit him.

Cardona said in all his time playing the sport he had never seen a player who looked like him competing in the men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament. For the past 90 minutes, though, the 5-foot-7 inch Hispanic volleyball player from Miami had been on the court competing against the defending national champions in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

The final score seemed almost irrelevant given what the match meant.

Fort Valley State in the predominately white sport of men’s volleyball became the first historically black college and university to compete in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time in the 54-year history of the tournament that a team was comprised primarily of minority players.

It was a watershed moment in the sport’s history and UCLA responded accordingly as it swept Fort Valley State 25-14, 25-15, 25-21 on Tuesday in Long Beach, California.


UCLA out-hit Fort Valley State .521 to zero and did not have any player commit more than two attack errors. Every UCLA player also hit at least .400 against Fort Valley State.

All-American outside attacker Ethan Champlin finished with a match-high eight kills on a .400 attack percentage. All-American middle attacker Merrick McHenry added seven kills and zero errors on a match-best .778 attack percentage, while opposite Ido David had seven kills and no errors on a .417 .636 attack percentage.

David also had a match-high two aces and helped the Bruins finish with five aces – one more ace than Fort Valley State.

Outside attacker Isaiah Fedd in the loss led Fort Valley State with two aces. UCLA, though, limited the All-SIAC pin-hitter to two kills.

Fort Valley State Middle attacker Raheem Thomas finished with a team-high six kills.

UCLA had a match-best .611 attack percentage in the third game to complete the sweep.

Fort Valley State jumped out to a 10-8 lead in the second game, but UCLA was able to retake the lead with a 3-0 run that was capped off with a Champlin ace. David later in the second-game victory had two blocks and two kills as part of a 10-1 run.

UCLA in the opening game hit .524 and committed two attack errors – three fewer errors than Fort Valley State. Both opposite Cooper Robinson and David had a game-high three kills and did not commit an attack error.

The Bruins with this victory remain undefeated in the NCAA Tournament opening round since the tournament changed to a single-elimination format in 1974.

UCLA will advance to the NCAA Tournament semifinals and play the winner of the quarterfinal match between the No.4 seed UC Irvine and the No. 5 seed Penn State.

Fort Valley State entered the NCAA Tournament having won nine of its last 10 matches. The Wildcats went undefeated in conference play and swept both matches in the SIAC Tournament to win their first conference title in program history.