Merrick McHenry is a force to be reckoned with.

The UCLA volleyball star helped lead the Bruins to their second straight NCAA title Saturday with a four-set win over Long Beach State. A redshirt senior, McHenry registered 10 kills and five blocks for UCLA in its 25-21, 25-20, 27-29, 25-21 victory. To cap off his season, McHenry was named to the all-tournament team.

The honor is more than appropriate for the Texas native, who will go down as one of the greatest players in recent UCLA history. With McHenry on the court, the Bruins have won consecutive championships for the first time since 1996.

Though McHenry will leave campus this year, he’ll forever be part of the UCLA record books. The middle blocker owns the UCLA record for solo blocks, and won Player of the Year from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation as well.

It’s apparent that McHenry is soaking up the moment. He was posting about the big win all weekend long, beginning Monday with a succinct message on his Instagram story.

“That was fun,” he wrote.

We would agree! McHenry was right in the middle of the celebration, holding the NCAA trophy moments after the final set.

When the final whistled sounded, every player on the Bruins stormed the court. Once again, McHenry was right in the heart of the action!

Standing at a towering 6-foot-7, McHenry put on quite the encore performance during his senior campaign. He played his best when the matches mattered most, closing out the season with an offensive player of the week award.

The Bruins breezed through April, winning 20 of 23 matches from March 10 onward. They did lose to rival Grand Canyon State in the MPSF Tournament, however.

After a breezy 3-0 sweep of Fort Valley State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins edged out UC Irvine 3-2 in the second round. Narrowly escaping elimination, they took care of business against LBSU. McHenry’s teammate, Ethan Champlin, was named the tournament’s MVP.

With his college career now behind him, McHenry’s next step could be a spot on the U.S. men’s national indoor team for the Paris Olympics. He is invited to a summer camp where the team will be picked, and UCLA coach John Spewar is also in charge of the Olympic club. That could give McHenry an advantage, though he probably doesn’t need one, considering he’s one of the best players in the country!

Born into a volleyball family, McHenry has been working towards this moment. His mom, a former middle blocker at Texas Tech, is a volleyball coach herself.

Though McHenry loved growing up in Texas, he never felt comfortable with his gay identity. That was one of the prevailing reasons why he wanted play at UCLA: Los Angeles is a playground for young queer men looking to explore and find their way.

“[To] be a gay man and grow up in Texas … I just felt out of place,” he told the Los Angeles Times last year. “To be able to be around people who still love me despite what a lot of parts of the world might see as different … it’s a journey and it still is a journey but I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my own skin as a 22-year-old nowadays. I think it’s only just going to get better for me.”

He was right about that! His junior and senior seasons were epic, with 461 combined kills and 218 blocks.

All the while, McHenry served as an inspiration for young LGBTQ+ athletes. Maybe the most memorable moment of his career came during the 2022-23 campaign, when a fan at an away game in Virginia thanked him for his work as a visible out athlete.

“It’s just me being myself. I’m not trying to be extra, I’m not trying to do more,” McHenry said. “I’m just ultimately trying to show people that you can be yourself and you’re still going to be loved and appreciated.”

We can’t wait to follow McHenry to his next stop, wherever that may be!

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