UCLA outlasts UC Irvine in five games to reach NCAA finals

Photo by Vinnie Lopes

There wasn’t a doubt in Ethan Champlin’s mind that he was getting set on the final play.

With UCLA out-of-system during a rally, setter Andrew Rowan went to his primary option, setting it high for Champlin. The All-American outside attacker did what he had done all match long – finding a way to get the ball past the UC Irvine blockers.

It was a fitting ending to a season-best performance.

Champlin finished with a season-high 19 kills on a .469 attack percentage as the No. 1 seed UCLA defeated the No. 4 seed UC Irvine 22-25, 25-20, 25-16, 18-25, 15-12 on Thursday in Long Beach, California, to advance to the NCAA Tournament finals.

Champlin had three kills in the decisive fifth game, including the match-winning kill. The outside attacker also opened the match with a game-high five kills in the first game and then led all players with five kills in the third-game win.

Rowan guided the offense to out-hit UC Irvine .404 to .303 in the victory. In addition, Champlin was one of three Bruins with double-digit kills to help move the Bruins one match closer to repeating as national champions.


Outside attacker Cooper Robinson ended with 11 kills on a .304 attack percentage, including having a kill to end a 3-1 UC Irvine run that started the fifth game. Middle attacker Merrick McHenry added 10 kills on a team-best .571 attack percentage.

McHenry also had a match-high six blocks as UCLA finished with 11 blocks – four more blocks than UC Irvine.

Along with the offensive performance, Champlin led all players defensively with 13 digs.

UC Irvine outside attacker Hilir Henno in the loss had a match-high 22 kills on a .311 attack percentage. Pin-hitter Nolan Flexan contributed 13 kills, while middle attacker Maxim Grigoriev had 11 kills on a match-best .625 attack percentage.

UCLA in the final game committed one attack error and hit .444. In addition, opposite Zach Rama coming off the bench had a kill to tie the game at 10-10 and start a 5-2 run to close out the match.

UC Irvine had five aces in the fourth game to force a decisive fifth game. The Antelopes also limited the Bruins to match-low .067 attack percentage in the fourth game.

UCLA with the third game tied at 13-13 went on a 12-3 run to close out the game. McHenry opened the run with two kills and a block on three consecutive plays and then added another block and kill during the run.

The Bruins also had a match-best .538 attack percentage in the third game to take a one-game lead.

UC Irvine trailed 15-12 in the second game before going on a 3-0 run that featured back-to-back kills from Grigoriev to tie the game. McHenry, though, responded with a block and kill as UCLA scored three of the next four points to take a lead that it would not relinquish.

The Anteaters jumped out to a four-point lead early in the first game and did not commit an attack error through the first 19 points of the match. UC Irvine finished the game hitting .444 with opposite Nolan Flexen having a game-high five kills and zero errors en route to the first-game win.

Starting outside attacker Akhil Tangutur, though, suffered a lower-leg injury following a kill midway through the game and had to be assisted off the court. Tangutur did not play the rest of the match.

This was one of two injuries in the match. UCLA opposite Grant Sloane suffered an injury in the warmup and did not play in the match.

Ido David starting at opposite had nine kills in the victory.