Long Beach State men’s volleyball swept in national championship by Hawaii

View Original Notice ? Long Beach State men’s volleyball swept in national championship by Hawaii

LOS ANGELES — Long Beach State men’s volleyball needed an epic comeback from two sets down over UCLA to make it to the national championship match on Saturday. But there would be no more late-match magic.

LBSU was swept by Hawaii — 25-22, 25-21, 25-20 — at Pauley Pavilion as the Rainbow Warriors won their second consecutive national title and avenged their 2019 defeat to Long Beach State in the championship match.

The third set was tied 16-16, but Hawaii (27-5) scored nine of the last 13 points and closed the match on a Long Beach State (21-6) net violation.

Long Beach State head coach Alan Knipe said he was disappointed in the result, but proud of a season in which LBSU made it to its fifth NCAA Final Four appearance in six seasons.

“I was so invigorated coaching these guys this year for their energy and their effort and their resolve and their commitment to this program and to their craft,” Knipe said. “It’s a disappointing loss and it hurts, but it’s been a wild season. When I look back at it, maybe the toughest season of all to coach, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Both teams needed five-set comebacks in the semifinals on Thursday to reach the championship, with LBSU overcoming a 2-0 deficit against UCLA and Hawaii rallying from down 2-1 to beat Ball State.

But Hawaii swept Long Beach State for the second straight match, continuing from its win over LBSU in the Big West championship two weeks ago. Those three sets were also tight, as the two top programs in the Big West entered Saturday with 8 of their 11 sets decided by three points or fewer.

“That’s how it’s been for years,” Knipe said. “It’s no shock to our guys that we were going to play close sets. Nobody was coming in here thinking it was going to be a blowout game. What I think it says more than anything is the quality of both of these programs over time.”

Hawaii and Long Beach State have dominated the men’s volleyball circuit the last five years since leaving the MPSF for the new Big West conference in 2018, splitting the last four championships.

LBSU claimed the title in 2018 and 2019, and after the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic, Hawaii won the 2021 championship for its first in program history.

This was the fourth meeting between the two programs this season, with Long Beach State winning two of three matches entering Saturday.

“Long Beach has been a stiff opponent of ours and that’s not going to change after this week for sure,” Hawaii coach Charlie Wade said before the match. “We’re in the same league and we’ll continue to compete at the highest level.”

But on Saturday, Long Beach State never seemed to capture much momentum despite hanging around in each of the sets.

Star freshman outside hitter Alex Nikolov Nikolov and the Long Beach State attack were thwarted often at the net, with Hawaii outblocking Long Beach State 8-1 and forcing LBSU into 17 attack errors compared to eight for the Rainbow Warriors.

“That’s really the backbone of our program is the block and defense,” Knipe said. “I’m a little surprised that would be the area we struggled in, but it is what it is. It’s the national championship and things happen.”

Nikolov had 20 kills and a .405 hitting percentage, but had five errors himself. Spencer Olivier contributed 11 kills and a .368 hitting percentage with four errors. Both Nikolov and Olivier were named to the NCAA All-Tournament team.

Hawaii was paced by Spyros Chakas, the tournament’s most outstanding player, with 14 kills and four digs. Dimitrios Mouchlias had 11 kills and Chaz Galloway added eight.

It was a tough end to an outstanding debut season for Nikolov, who made a quick adjustment coming over from Bulgaria to become the first freshman to be named National Player of the Year.

“It’s definitely different from the experiences I’ve had,” Nikolov said, adding that he was happy to have experienced the NCAA Tournament. “The game is fast, the game is evolved, the game lets me be creative.”

With most of its key players returning next season, Knipe feels confident that Long Beach State and Hawaii will keep meeting in big matches.

“I think it bodes really well for the Big West and men’s volleyball throughout the country,” Knipe said. “These programs have been doing some really big things and I think there will be some really big matches to come.”