Long Beach State cruises into Big West final, setting up rubber match with Hawaii

LONG BEACH — Those who attended the two matches between Long Beach State and Hawaii last weekend in Oahu say they might have been the two best matches in men’s volleyball this season, a pair of sweaty five-set matches that the teams split.

So the anticipation and expectations for the rubber match, which will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Walter Pyramid for the first-ever Big West Championship tourney title, is high. As 49er assistant coach Andy Read advised fans after the 49ers’ victory on Friday, “Bring a lunch. We could be playing all night.”

The top-seeded 49ers (25-1) earned the rematch with a 25-23, 25-13, 25-17 sweep of fourth-seeded Cal State Northridge (16-11) in Friday’s second semifinal. Second-seeded Hawaii (19-7) beat No. 3 UC Irvine in four sets in the first semifinal to reserve its spot in the final.

The 49ers hit .414 in their semi, with Kyle Ensing notching 11 kills, two aces and two blocks, and TJ DeFalco posting nine kills with four aces and a pair of blocks. The defense had an almost perfect night receiving, with just three errors in 43 tries. Arvis Greene led Northridge with nine kills, but the Matadors hit just .139 on the night and had one block compared to 7½ by Long Beach.

Both Long Beach, which has been ranked No. 1 in the nation all season, and Hawaii appear to have earned a spot in the seven-team NCAA tournament field for the May 1-5 event at UCLA. Saturday’s winner will get the conference’s automatic bid and the loser one of two at-large bids. But neither will be looking past this match.

It will be the third meeting between the teams in a span of eight days. “It sort of feels like a pro playoff series,” LBSU coach Alan Knipe said. “Travel and play, and then travel and play.

“Those were great matchups. We were up 2-1 in the first match and then got down to match point against us and pulled it out. The second match we were up 2-1 and didn’t execute down the stretch. Hawaii is physical and aggressive and they’re playing their best volleyball of the season.”

The Rainbow Warriors overwhelmed a good UCI team Friday with their power game on serves and at the net on kills. They’re a physical team with a 6-foot-8 outside hitter, a 6-10 middle blocker and 6-9 left-handed opposite, Rado Parapunov, who had a match-high 15 kills against the Anteaters.

That loss in the regular-season finale hurt since the 49ers, who were one win away from an unbeaten regular season. All the players and coaches said they prepared for Hawaii and UCI equally, but getting a shot at the Rainbow Warriors again is extra meaningful.

“We always prepare for both teams,” said setter Josh Tuaniga, who had three kills, three digs, two aces and 27 assists. “But that loss does feel like something we want to get back. There’s a little more fire in us.”

“I think we want to play them again because we all feel we left a little on the table in that match,” said outside hitter Bjarne Nuus, who had eight kills. “It was mostly in our execution. We just tried to do too much last time. We need to get back to basics.”

Long Beach State won the first match in Oahu 25-16, 17-25, 26-24, 25-27, 22-20. Hawaii returned serve in the second 25-21, 22-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11.

The 49ers beat Northridge 25-23 in the first set Friday despite giving the Matadors more than half of their points on errors – five attack misfires and seven service errors. They jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the second on the way to a 25-13 win, hitting a robust .435 (13 kills) while CSUN had only five kills and a .056 hitting percentage.

They punctuated the sweep with a 25-17 third set win, scoring the first five points on a pair of blocks, each including Ensing, an Ensing kill and Tuaniga ace. They won nine of the first 11 points and led 13-5 after a solo block by Simon Anderson.

Northridge didn’t collapse, getting kills by Arvis Greene and Maciej Ptaszynski and an ace by Dimitar Kalchev to close within six before the 49ers pulled away, DeFalco closing the 25-17 win with an ace.

“Northridge had good energy the first set and we missed a few serves just by a few inches,” Knipe said. “We were good serving the rest of the match, and our defense and blocking was great in the second and third sets. Josh did a great job setting up the offense.”

LONG BEACH… on TOP 🔝@LBSU_MVB | #GoBeach pic.twitter.com/VJfX9fOTPl

— #BigWest MVB 🏐 (@BigWestMVB) April 21, 2018

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TJ DeFalco, top-ranked Long Beach State outlast No. 2 UCLA again

  • Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) spikes against UCLA’s Jake Arnitz(15) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) spikes against UCLA’s Jake Arnitz(15) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Bjarne Huus(4) gets the ball past UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Bjarne Huus(4) gets the ball past UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) spikes the ball against Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) Nick Amado(25) and Bjarne Huus(4) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) spikes the ball against Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) Nick Amado(25) and Bjarne Huus(4) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) and Simon Anderson(13) can’t block UCLA’s JT Hatch(9) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) and Simon Anderson(13) can’t block UCLA’s JT Hatch(9) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • UCLA’s Oliver Martin(4) spikes the ball against Long Beach State’s Nick Amado(25) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    UCLA’s Oliver Martin(4) spikes the ball against Long Beach State’s Nick Amado(25) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) gets the ball past Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) gets the ball past Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • UCLA’s JT Hatch(9) battles for the ball against Long Beach State in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    UCLA’s JT Hatch(9) battles for the ball against Long Beach State in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) spikes against UCLA’s Daenan Gyimah(16) and Dylan Missry(12) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) spikes against UCLA’s Daenan Gyimah(16) and Dylan Missry(12) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11) lobs the ball over UCLA’s Micah Ma’a(13) and Daenan Gyimah(16) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11) lobs the ball over UCLA’s Micah Ma’a(13) and Daenan Gyimah(16) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11) lobs the ball over UCLA’s Micah Ma’a(13) and Daenan Gyimah(16) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11) lobs the ball over UCLA’s Micah Ma’a(13) and Daenan Gyimah(16) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • UCLA’s Daenan Gyimah(16) spikes against Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) and Nick Amado(25) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    UCLA’s Daenan Gyimah(16) spikes against Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) and Nick Amado(25) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) attempts to block UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) attempts to block UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus (4) celebrates a point with his teammates during Wednesday’s match at UCLA. Top-ranked Long Beach defeated the second-ranked Bruins in four sets for the second time in less than a week. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus (4) celebrates a point with his teammates during Wednesday’s match at UCLA. Top-ranked Long Beach defeated the second-ranked Bruins in four sets for the second time in less than a week. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) goes up against UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) Daenan Gyimah(16) and Grant Missry(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) goes up against UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) Daenan Gyimah(16) and Grant Missry(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) goes against UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) goes against UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) goes against UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) goes against UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) blocks UCLA’s Jake Arnitz(15) ball in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) blocks UCLA’s Jake Arnitz(15) ball in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11) spikes against UCLA’s in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11) spikes against UCLA’s in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11) can’t block a spike against Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11) can’t block a spike against Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) spikes the ball against UCLA’s Jake Arnitz(15) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) spikes the ball against UCLA’s Jake Arnitz(15) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) spikes the ball against Long Beach State’s in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) spikes the ball against Long Beach State’s in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) and his teammates attempt to block UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Kyle Ensing(5) and his teammates attempt to block UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Jordan Molina(9) gets under the ball against UCLA in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Jordan Molina(9) gets under the ball against UCLA in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11), left lobs over the ball against UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) and Daenan Gyimah(16), right, in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco(11), left lobs over the ball against UCLA’s Dylan Missry(12) and Daenan Gyimah(16), right, in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Josh Tuaniga(10), left, battle for the ball with UCLA’s Oliver Martin(4), right,in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Josh Tuaniga(10), left, battle for the ball with UCLA’s Oliver Martin(4), right,in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) eyes the ball as he attempts to block UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s Bjarne Huus(4) eyes the ball as he attempts to block UCLA’s Grant Maleski(10) in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

  • Long Beach State’s UCLA’s Garland Peed V(1) and his teammates celebrate a point against Long Beach State in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

    Long Beach State’s UCLA’s Garland Peed V(1) and his teammates celebrate a point against Long Beach State in a rematch between the top teams in the NCAA, No. 1 Long Beach State as they travel to Westwood to take on No. 2 UCLA in Los Angeles Wednesday, February 21, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze)

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LOS ANGELES — TJ DeFalco’s eyes light up in appreciation when he’s asked about his running mate Kyle Ensing.

“It makes my job really easy,” DeFalco joked after the pair of juniors led top-ranked Long Beach State to a four-set, 25-21, 23-25, 25-19, 25-21 victory over No. 2 UCLA on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion, four days after the 49ers won at LBSU’s Walter Pyramid last Saturday.

DeFalco, who had a season-high 17 kills against UCLA win last Saturday, had a match-high 23 kills Wednesday, followed by 19 from Ensing.

DeFalco had seven kills in the fourth set, all coming in the latter half of the match to clinch the victory for the 49ers (14-0). His first kill of the set tied it at 14-14 as he scored six of Long Beach State’s next seven points.

UCLA senior JT Hatch opposed the Huntington Beach native with three kills in the fourth set to keep the score close, but Ensing joined in with a kill to push the lead to 21-19. The Bruins (14-3) fell behind after another kill from DeFalco and an ace from Nick Amado that bust the tight set open late.

“One thing that we focus on in practice a lot is composure late,” DeFalco said. “It’s really just staying with our routine, playing our own game and not getting caught up in the crowd or emotion of the game so we really just hunkered down and played very composed.”

Freshman Grant Maleski started on the right side for UCLA in place of senior Christian Hessenauer after playing in only two sets this season. Hessenauer is UCLA’s leader in kills per set, while Maleski’s lone kill of his career came against Concordia on Feb. 8. But the freshman from Illinois came up big in the second set with six kills and a block to help UCLA tie the match.

After Maleski had four straight kills that helped UCLA to a 22-18 lead, Long Beach set up a triple block on the right side. Maleski hit his attempt high and out of bounds to avoid the block, but on the next point, he finessed it over with a soft touch that put UCLA by two 23-21. Hatch, who finished with 13 kills and 10 digs, scored the final two points for the Bruins, including a left-handed tip kill to finish the set.

“Really proud of Grant, especially because he’s really had hardly any time with (setter) Micha (Ma’a),” UCLA head coach John Speraw said. “Good experience for him. I feel really good about what he’s going to be able to do for us and we may need him going forward.”

Maleski tied Hatch for the team-lead in kills with 13, but showed his youth at times with seven errors and four service errors.

Long Beach State setter Josh Tauniga had a season-high 57 assists with 13 digs while Ma’a had 49 for the Bruins with 11 digs.

Before last Saturday, the 49ers hadn’t lost a set in nine matches and now they’ve been pushed to four sets twice in four days. Long Beach head coach Alan Knipe said he was expecting a “slugfest” in Wednesday’s rematch.

After his team landed the knockout punch, Knipe believes back-to-back wins over the No. 2 team in the country can only be a springboard toward bigger goals.

“There’s absolutely no substitute (to) getting these types of moments to experience and execute through and hopefully you come out on the end you want — the winning end,” Knipe said. “But in reality, these are the lesson moments that you build on throughout the season that you refer to in big matches: playoff matches and hopefully Final Four matches.”

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