Middle Blocker Merrick McHenry of the UCLA Bruins holds the trophy after defeating Long Beach State 25-21, 25-20, (29-27), 25-21 to win the NCAA men's volleyball national championship in the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Cal State Long Beach on Saturday. | Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

It’s been an amazing 12 months for UCLA volleyball player Merrick McHenry. In May 2023 he helped the Bruins win the NCAA title. On Saturday, he helped the Bruins repeat as champions with a four-set win over Long Beach State.

McHenry, a redshirt senior, had 10 kills and five blocks for UCLA in its 25-21, 25-20, 27-29, 25-21 win over Long Beach State, the first time the Bruins have won back-to-back men’s titles since 1996. McHenry was also named to the all-tournament team.

McHenry is doing it all as an out gay athlete, becoming the first middle blocker to win Player of the Year from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation since 2002 and also owning the UCLA record for career solo blocks.

McHenry chose to leave his native Texas in part because he is gay, a decision that has paid off for him and UCLA.

“[To] be a gay man and grow up in Texas … I just felt out of place,” McHenry told the Los Angeles Times in 2023.

“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.”

One high point for McHenry came in the 2022-23 season when a fan at an away game in Virginia thanked him for all he was doing for the LGBTQ community.

“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.”

The next step for McHenry could be a spot on the U.S. men’s national indoor team for the Paris Olympics. He is among those invited to a summer camp where the team is being picked. The men’s team is coached by UCLA coach John Speraw, which should give him a leg up. McHenry certainly has the hardware and awards that show he is one of the top players in the country.