UCLA defeats Long Beach State for second straight NCAA men's volleyball title

UCLA players raised the NCAA championship trophy to each corner of the Walter Pyramid. While most of Long Beach State’s sellout crowd had emptied before the Bruins could begin their championship celebration, large swaths of blue-and-gold clad fans still remained. They chanted.

“Back-to-back! Back-to-back!”

Top-seeded UCLA defended its national championship with a four-set win over No. 2 Long Beach State in Walter Pyramid on Saturday. The Bruins won their 21st NCAA title in program history and completed their first repeat bid since 1996, sending the decorated senior class that ended UCLA’s almost two-decade title drought off with a matching set of championships.

“It took a long time to get one at UCLA,” UCLA coach John Speraw said. “Now they got two.”

When Long Beach State’s Skyler Varga tipped an attack out of bounds on match point, UCLA celebrated the 25-21, 25-20, 27-29, 25-21 win by rushing the court. Middle blocker Guy Genis and outside hitter Cooper Robinson fell to the bottom of the dog pile. Speraw raised both fists as he leaned back to look at the rafters.

On the other side of the net, Long Beach State’s DiAeris McRaven stood frozen with his hands on his hips. He dropped his head. Teammate Simon Torwie pulled him into the Long Beach State huddle.

Torwie, who was named to the all-tournament team with eight kills, five blocks and an ace in the championship game, was part of a group of Long Beach seniors who played in three consecutive national semifinals and advanced to the championship match twice, although the program couldn’t secure its first national title since 2019.

“They are champions to me,” Long Beach coach Alan Knipe said. “They are unbelievably a great group of men, on and off the court. … I could be happier for them, but I absolutely could not be prouder.”


Senior Clarke Godbold helped Long Beach State (27-3) build momentum late in the second set despite falling behind 2-0 in the match. The honorable mention All-American came off the bench with three kills and two blocks in the second set then saved the Beach in the third with a kill on UCLA’s championship point. He doubled down with a second consecutive kill that gave Long Beach State its first set point. The Beach needed four chances to close out the set, finally clinching on a solo block by McRaven.

Then UCLA called on its own super sub. Sophomore Zach Rama delivered three kills in the final six points to break a 20-20 tie in the decisive fourth set. Caught near the bottom of the celebratory dog pile, the outside hitter from Phoenix slapped the ground with his hand with Robinson’s arm wrapped around his neck.

“I figured there might be a time this weekend when it would be Rama time,” Speraw said, “and it was the right time.”

UCLA senior Ethan Champlin was named NCAA tournament most outstanding player after leading the Bruins with 15 kills and six blocks in the championship match. With shaky hands and watery eyes, he struggled to loosen the back of his championship hat to fit it over his brown hair. He was breathless at the postgame news conference, whispering through a raspy voice with his shoulders slumped in exhaustion.

“There’s a phrase that goes ‘All gave some, some gave all.’ I didn’t have anything left to give that fourth set,” Champlin said while leaning both elbows on the table. “I was trying my best to have some energy. I was lightheaded, I couldn’t feel my legs. … To be here with this guys, it means a lot.”

UCLA outside hitter Ethan Champlin, top, tries to hit over Long Beach State's DiAeris McRaven (19) and Aidan Knipe.

UCLA’s Ethan Champlin, top, hits over Long Beach State’s DiAeris McRaven (19) and Aidan Knipe (5) during the Bruins’ championship victory Saturday.

(Ross Turteltaub / UCLA Athletics)

The Bruins continued a run of six consecutive champions to win back-to-back titles, but it didn’t come without struggles. Returning all starters except for their libero, the Bruins dropped two matches in January.

But the Bruins reminded themselves what was most important. It wasn’t about being the best team in February, middle blocker Merrick McHenry said. In some ways, it was about being the grimiest team.

Taking inspiration from Speraw’s history as a microbiology and molecular genetics major at UCLA, the Bruins tried to channel the strength of a sewer rat, whose immune system is built through surviving the toughest of conditions.

“We want to wallow in the muck and crap and be able to come out on the other side,” Speraw said, “and not be bothered by anything that isn’t important.”

After wallowing through the season, the Bruins walked out of the Pyramid with their championship T-shirts, hats and trophy.

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