LOS ANGELES — Sam Burgi hadn’t played in over a month when UCLA men’s volleyball coach John Speraw knocked the senior off the bench at outside hitter in the biggest game of the season.
As a testament to UCLA’s depth, Burgi delivered a win when UCLA defeated Pepperdine in four sets, 25-23, 22-25, 26-24, 25-19, in a quarterfinals of an NCAA tournament on Tuesday night in Pauley. Pavilion.
UCLA’s win puts it in a rematch of the 2018 national title game with Long Beach State — who lost to the Bruins in five sets — in a semifinal on Thursday at 5 p.m.
Recorded six kills, three digs and a block, Burgi had a key hit softly, giving UCLA a 22-18 lead in the fourth set. The Bruins took three of the next four points to seal the win.
“This is such a deep team at UCLA that I coached,” Speraw said. “Sometimes you go with the senior at these moments. I’ve done that at great moments throughout my career. Burgi goes down on the list of great performances from guys who come off the couch when it matters most.”
Speraw said he had “100 percent confidence” in Burgi, whose last appearance in a match was on March 26. He knew Burgi could pass the ball and the Bruins struggled with the flow.
Burgi, a resident of Laguna Beach 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 (ass) off just to have a chance,” Burgi said. “I’m pretty comfortable where I’m on the bench, have to come in, just fight 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. Bruin’s players know that their bankers can probably start on other programs. The “B” team regularly beats the “A” team during training.
“If I can get on the field at UCLA, I can be anywhere on the field,” said center blocker Merrick McHenry. “I think our culture and how many guys we have who can be on the pitch is unreal and not very common.”
Against hitter Kevin Kobrine, UCLA led with 16 kills and a success rate of .519. McHenry added seven kills and six blocks.
McHenry said he felt Burgi relax the team as he started the match, which tied by one set apiece before UCLA won the final two sets.
“It’s fun,” Burgi said. “It’s part of the competition. You have to love each other enough, fight each other and fight each other at the same time. I had a really nice time.”
Burgi then turned to Speraw onstage and said, “Thanks for your shot, Coach.”
UCLA won the first set 25-23, beating Pepperdine .333 to .094. With a score of 23-23 in the set, Miles Partain, McHenry and Ethan Champlin combined for a block and then Pepperdine’s Jaylen Jasper couldn’t handle Partaine’s serve.
Pepperdine tied the game on a set apiece and won the first set of the season against UCLA. The Waves led for much of the set, capping off a 25-22 win on a UCLA service foul.
UCLA took a 2-1 lead with a 26-24 third set win. With a tie of 24, center blocker JR Norris and Burgi provided kills for the Bruins.
UCLA outhit Pepperdine .437 to .283, forcing the Waves to 22 offenses.
Despite being No. 1 for nine straight weeks – the longest run in the rankings since 1995 – UCLA needed a big bid to make it to the tournament after being upset by Stanford in the MPSF semifinals.
But the Waves’ season ended against a UCLA team that defeated them twice during the regular season. An emotional Spencer Wickens, who had 11 kills, seven digs and a success rate of .529, said his mere presence in the match showed Pepperdine was an NCAA tournament-worthy team.
After a 7-5 record in conference play, the Waves advanced through the MPSF tournament, beating BYU, USC, and Stanford to win the tournament, earning the league’s automatic place in the seven-team NCAA tournament.
“The season didn’t go perfectly,” Wickens said. “We had our ups and downs. We had to win the (MPSF) tournament to get here. Before that, we beat three great teams in the tournament.”
In his 10th season as coach, Speraw aims to lead UCLA to its first national title since 2006. A team from UCLA, standing in the way before the big game is played by Long Beach State (20-5), split a few regular-season games with .
“They are a great volleyball team,” Speraw said of LBSU. “The last time we played against them, there were a lot of people in the stands in a big game that went five. It was a great volleyball game. I think the next one will be great too.”
Big West Tournament champion Hawaii (25-5) defeated North Greenville (20-6) in the second quarterfinal, 25-15, 25-17, 25-16, and advanced to #2 seeded Ball State (23-3 ), the MIVA champion, in Thursday’s second semifinal.
The match for the national championship is scheduled for Saturday at 5 p.m