Los Angeles, Ca – Top seed Long Beach State (27-1) ended No 6 Ohio State’s two-year reign over men’s volleyball on Thursday night after an epic battle (25-22, 25-23, 25-27, 32-30).
Long Beach State will play No 3 UCLA in the championship match on Saturday in Pauley Pavilion (4pm PT, televised on ESPN2).
In a fierce fourth set battle that was characterized by long, desperate rallies and incredible digs, the two-time defending champion Buckeyes fought off five match points before Long Beach’s national player of the year Josh Tuaniga dumped the ball down the middle for his fifth kill.
The raucous Long Beach State fans erupted in jubilation as the Beach move forward to their seventh National Championship final, their first since 2004.
Long Beach was led by double-doubles from Kyle Ensing and TJ DeFalco. Ensing had a season high 20 kills and 10 digs while DeFalco added 16 kills and 10 digs.
Ohio State didn’t go down without a fight, led by Jake Hanes with a 21-kill performance and double-doubles from Nick Szerszen (16 kills, 12 digs) and Maxime Hervoir (17 kills, 11 digs).
In the second set, Long Beach hitters Kyle Ensing and TJ DeFalco got hot with 5 kills each as Long Beach continued to dominate at the net through great sets by their playmaking leader Josh Tuaniga who finished the match with 42 assists.
Long Beach State will make its seventh appearance in the National Championship match, and first since 2004. Long Beach are 1-5 in National Championship matches, with their lone win coming in 1991. Head coach Alan Knipe, who was just named national coach of the year, played on the 1991 Championship team and was on the All-Tournament team.
“We’ve been preparing for this moment all year long,” said Knipe. “I’ve been through these situations before as a player and a coach and I hope some of that rubs off on our guys.”
In the second quarterfinal match, No 3 UCLA (26-7) played its best game of its season to oust their MPSF rival No 2 BYU (22-7) in four sets (25-22, 24-26, 29-27, 25-19).
Christian Hessenauer once again led the Bruins with 14 kills and 8 digs. Daenan Gyimah contributed 13 kills and hit at least .500 in a match for the 10th straight time. Gabi Garcia Fernandez led BYU with 19 kills and 9 digs.
“It wasn’t a perfect match, but the guys played incredibly hard,” said UCLA head coach John Speraw. “They played with such great enthusiasm. Coach Wooden would be proud. So we are thrilled. We are going to be playing for a national title. I can hardly believe it. We get to do it in our own house against a great team.”
UCLA’s last men’s volleyball title was back in 2006. UCLA will enter the title game as an underdog to its Southern California rival. UCLA played Long Beach State twice this season, losing both matches in four sets.
“This is a great team we are going to play. That’s what we want. Shoot, you want to play the best team at the end and we are going to have an opportunity to go do that,” Speraw said.