Coming into the season, there were two teams expected to crush every opponent before meeting each other in the final games heading into the postseason: Long Beach and Hawai’i.
The time is finally here as No. 2 Long Beach State (23-1, 8-0 Big West) squares off against No.1 Hawai’i (25-0, 8-0) in a battle for first place in the national polls and the Big West conference Friday.
Both games will be held inside the Walter Pyramid after Hawai’i hosted the last two matches last season, spoiling Long Beach’s undefeated record last year.
This season, the tables have turned, with Long Beach having the opportunity to spoil Hawai’i’s undefeated record. The 49ers would also reclaim the number one seed in the nation, gaining momentum heading into the Big West Tournament.
“As far as trying to do a whole lot of different things to stop Hawai’i, that’s just not our approach,” head coach Alan Knipe said. “We’re going to have a couple of things we would like to do too, to make it uncomfortable for them,; however, the best thing we can do is worry about creating a lot of stress on our opponent by how well we execute our offense, serving and block and defense.”
The Rainbow Warriors are led by their opposites, who rank no. 2 and 3 in hitting percentage. Senior opposite Stijn Van Tilburg and junior opposite Rado Parapunov are hitting .487 and .484, and are the part of the reason the Rainbow Warriors lead the nation in hitting percentage.
Long Beach has had difficulties limiting its serving and attacking errors, which have allowed opponents to linger around in sets that the 49ers should be able to close out. In their last matchup, they allowed UC San Diego to push them to extra points in a 27-25 third set before sweeping them. With Hawai’i already being the dominant force on the offensive end, limiting errors for the 49ers will be crucial in these next two matches.
“You can go at it two ways: you can go in totally concerned with stopping [Hawai’i], or you can go in with a couple of keys that you want to do to limit what success they can have,” Knipe said. “But also, [you can] put them on the defense and let them be more concerned with us.”
The 49ers hope their season average .423 hitting percentage is on full display for these matches in order to rally past the Rainbow Warriors.
Long Beach will look to extend its program-record 39 straight home wins this weekend. The 49ers have not lost a home match in over three years, so they will be faced with the ultimate test this weekend.
Long Beach has a two-game homestand 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday against Hawai’i.