So much for the “rust” factor.
Despite not having played in almost two weeks, Long Beach State looked razor sharp early on its way to ending Ohio State’s reign as NCAA men’s volleyball champion with a 25-22, 25-23, 25-27, 32-30 semifinal victory Thursday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion.
Coach Alan Knipe welcomed the 12 days off, a reward for winning the inaugural Big West Conference regular-season and tournament titles while earning the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the NCAA championships. Given more time to prepare, the 49ers seemingly had all the answers against a squad seeking its third straight crown.
“We got to see tonight why they put two national championships together,” Knipe said of Ohio State. “We had to score points in unconventional ways, with effort and flat-out grit. We executed through determination, from learning from failure, which shows the growth of our team.”
The 49ers are one match away from its second national title and play UCLA on Saturday at 4 p.m. on the same floor.
Kyle Ensing led the 49ers with 20 kills and 10 digs and fellow All-American TJ De Falco added 16 kills and 10 digs. Setter Josh Tuaniga had 42 assists.
A service error gave Long Beach State a 6-5 lead in the first set and the 49ers were never caught the rest of the way. A diving dig by Bjarne Huus led to a thunderous kill by Ensing that made it 19-14, but the Buckeyes (25-6) pulled to within 21-20 on back-to-back aces by Jake Hanes. An emphatic block by Huus ended the set.
Ensing’s crosscourt kill broke a 23-23 deadlock in the second set and Huus followed with a spike down the line to give the top-seeded 49ers (27-1) a two-set lead.
Ohio State led 19-13 in the third set before the 49ers pulled even at 20-20 on an ace by Ensing. Long Beach State saved two set points before Hanes’ ace extended the match. It was only the 13th set Long Beach State has surrendered in 28 matches.
“They were really tough off the line and this was a slugfest, like a boxing match,” said DeFalco, the Big West player of the year.
“We’d get a lead but they kept coming back. ... They weren’t giving up.”
The fourth set was tight all the way and the resilient Buckeyes saved six match points before Tuaniga surprised the Buckeyes with a quick kill on the second touch to finally put away the defending champions.
“There was no easy way to set a big-time hitter so the opportunity arose to do that, I took a chance and I was hoping it would go down,” Tuaniga said. “I’m just happy I get to celebrate with my boys.”
Hanes led Ohio State with 21 kills, Maxime Hervoir had 17 kills and 11 digs, and Nicolas Szerszen added 16 kills and 12 digs.
“Long Beach is a very good volleyball team but I thought the scarlet and gray played exceptionally well, too,” Ohio State coach Pete Hanson said. “The No. 1 team in the country made the right plays at the right time just like we did Tuesday against Irvine.”
Inspired by a noisy home crowd in the second semifinal, UCLA took the first set off BYU and rode the momentum to a 25-22, 24-26, 29-27, 25-19 win in the fourth meeting this season between the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rivals.
A mishandled ball gave BYU a 25-24 lead in the second set and a finesse kill to the open court by Gabi Garcia Fernandez leveled the match at one set apiece.
The Bruins (26-7) saved three set points in the third before winning it on a kill up the line by senior opposite hitter Christian Hessenauer. UCLA forged an early lead in the fourth set and closed out the match on a clean ace by freshman opposite hitter Grant Maleski.