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Deep UCLA men’s volleyball team ousts Pepperdine, reaches NCAA semifinals – Daily News


LOS ANGELES — Sam Burgi hadn’t entered a match in more than a month when UCLA men’s volleyball coach John Speraw inserted the senior off the bench at outside hitter in the biggest match of the season.

In a testament to UCLA’s depth, Burgi delivered as UCLA defeated Pepperdine in four sets, 25-23, 22-25, 26-24, 25-19, in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal on Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA’s win sets up a rematch of the 2018 national title match with Long Beach State – which the Bruins lost in five sets – in a semifinal on Thursday at 5 p.m.

Burgi recorded six kills, three digs and a block, and had a key softly hit kill that put UCLA ahead 22-18 in the fourth set. The Bruins won three of the next four points to seal the win.

“This is as deep a team at UCLA I’ve coached,” Speraw said. “Sometimes in these moments, you go with the senior. I’ve done that throughout the course of my career in big moments. Burgi goes down on the list of big-time performances of guys coming off the bench when it mattered most.”

Speraw said he had “100 percent confidence” in Burgi, whose last appearance in a match was March 26. He knew that Burgi could pass the ball, and the Bruins were struggling with the flow.

Burgi, a Laguna Beach native who came to UCLA from a club team where he also came off the bench, was used to waiting for his moment.

“I’m used to being that guy who just has to grind his (butt) off to just have any sort of shot,” Burgi said. “I’m pretty comfortable where I am on the bench, having to come in, just battle for position.”

UCLA (22-4) cycled through 12 players on Tuesday compared to nine for Pepperdine (19-10), which has been a common theme all season. The Bruin players know that their bench players could probably start on other programs. The “B” team regularly beats the “A” team during practice.

“If I can get on the court at UCLA, I can be on the court anywhere,” middle blocker Merrick McHenry said. “I think our culture and how many guys we have that can be on the court is unreal and not very common.”

Opposite hitter Kevin Kobrine led UCLA with 16 kills and a .519 hitting percentage. McHenry added seven kills and six blocks.

McHenry said he felt Burgi relaxed the team when he entered the match, which was tied at one set apiece before UCLA won the last two sets.

“It’s fun,” Burgi said. “It’s a part of the competition. You’ve got to love one another enough, fight with each other and fight against each other at the same time. I had a really good time.”

Burgi then turned to Speraw at the podium and said: “Thank you for your shot, coach.”

UCLA won the first set 25-23, outhitting Pepperdine .333 to .094. With the set tied 23-23, Miles Partain, McHenry and Ethan Champlin combined for a block and then Pepperdine’s Jaylen Jasper couldn’t handle Partain’s serve.

Pepperdine evened the match at a set apiece, winning its first set of the season against UCLA. The Waves held the lead for much of the set and closed out a 25-22 win on a UCLA service error.

UCLA took a 2-1 lead with a 26-24 third set win. With the score tied at 24-all, middle blocker J.R. Norris and Burgi delivered kills for the Bruins.

UCLA outhit Pepperdine .437 to .283 and forced the Waves into 22 attack errors.

Despite being ranked No. 1 for nine consecutive weeks – its longest streak atop the rankings since 1995 – UCLA needed an at-large bid to make it into the tournament after being upset by Stanford in the MPSF Tournament semifinals.

But the Waves’ season ended against a UCLA team that beat them twice during the regular season. An emotional Spencer Wickens, who had 11 kills, seven digs and a .529 hitting percentage, said just being in the match showed that Pepperdine was an NCAA tournament-worthy team.



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