WESTWOOD – Long Beach State men’s volleyball fell one win short of its third national title in four seasons after getting swept by the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors [25-22, 25-21, 25-20] on Saturday at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
“I’m just so proud of the season,” LBSU head coach Alan Knipe said. “Disappointed in the result tonight and we’ll own some of the things that we think we could have been better at, but the experience here was huge.”
AVCA National Player of the Year freshman outside hitter Alex Nikolov finished with a game-high 20 kills while sophomore libero Mason Briggs completed 24 receptions without an error.
For Hawaii, the team won a second consecutive title. The Bows got to the NCAA tournament after beating The Beach two weeks ago on April 23 in the Big West Tournament.
This season was Briggs’ and Nikolov’s first time in an NCAA playoff atmosphere, and the former believes there’s still something to be grateful for.
“I’m proud of everyone,” Briggs said about a rough first two seasons during an unprecedented time. “Not the easiest season, it’s not the easiest time we’ve been through. I love these guys and the program and I’m just grateful.”
One of the things The Beach will look back on with distaste was its defense at the front of the net.
During the season, LBSU was among the top three teams in blocks per set in the NCAA. Going into the final, The Beach averaged 2.59 blocks per set, yet finished the game with only one lone block via sophomore opposite Simon Torwie.
On the other side of the net, Hawaii sophomore middle blocker Voss Guilherme finished with three blocks on his own. The Bows dominance in the frontcourt held LBSU to a meager .304 hitting percentage that saw 17 hitting errors for The Beach.
Despite the loss, LBSU, along with the Big West, has become a mainstay in the national championships. It’s the fourth year in a row a team from the conference wins the national title, and The Bows and The Beach are among the favorites to make it back to the final next year.
“I’d like to congratulate Long Beach for an unbelievable season,” Hawaii head coach Charlie Wade said after winning its second consecutive national title and sweeping The Beach during the Big West tournament final. “We seem to be playing them for championships all too often, it’s great to represent the Big West on a national stage.”
Following the loss, The Beach ends its season with a 21-6 record and a Big West Conference regular-season title. Next season, every player on the roster except one (redshirt senior Marc Moody) is expected to return.
“These two programs have been doing some really big things,” Knipe said about the future of this Hawaii and LBSU rivalry. “And I think there will be a lot of big matches to be played.”