In front of a thunderous, sold out crowd, Long Beach set foot in the Stan Sheriff Center in hopes of winning back-to-back Big West Tournaments.
Instead, the 49ers (26-2) were met with 10,300 rowdy fans and a hungry Rainbow Warriors (27-2) team, eager to rid themselves of back-to-back losses they suffered last week inside the Walter Pyramid.
Both teams showed once again why they’re the the two best teams in college volleyball by putting on another five set thriller that saw Hawai’i come out victorious, (25-15, 25-23, 22-25, 20-25, 15-8) claiming the Big West Tournament championship and a ticket to the NCAA Final Four.
Long Beach immediately found itself in a hole after getting outplayed, out-worked and out-hustled in the first set, dropping it without putting much of a fight. The Rainbow Warriors were able to feed off the home crowd, enabling their offense to a .458 hitting percentage while holding the 49ers to .185 in the set.
After regrouping, a re-energized Long Beach came out firing on all cylinders in the second set, hitting .419 to Hawai’i’s .353, but it wasn’t enough as the Rainbow Warriors managed to squeak through with a set win after keeping pace throughout the match.
In the third and fourth sets, Long Beach finally broke through and took the arena by surprise with back-to-back set wins. Senior outside hitter TJ DeFalco and senior opposite Kyle Ensing put the team on their backs, combining for 40 kills and six service aces. One of DeFalco’s three aces came in the fourth set, with the 49ers having set point. The ace served as a focal point in what was an impressive rally by Long Beach.
With the momentum on the 49ers’ side beginning the fifth set, the Rainbow Warriors punched the rally in the gut, coming out how they did in the first set. Long Beach had no answer all match for senior outside hitter Stijn Van Tilburg, who had 25 kills with no errors on an impressive .543 hitting, and redshirt junior outside hitter Colton Cowell, who broke out for a career-high 18 kills at a .471 clip.
Hawai’i dominated the fifth set, killing any signs of life Long Beach was showing and capped off its tumultuous battle with the 49ers with a kill.
With the win, the Rainbow Warriors clinched a spot in the Final Four for a chance at becoming national champions.
Long Beach will be the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which it will host May 2 and 4 inside the Walter Pyramid.