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