It should have been a triumphant weekend in Hawaii but instead it ended in bitter disappointment.
No. 6 Long Beach State pulled off two upsets of No. 4 Cal Poly in order to reach the championship of the Big West Tournament, where the 49ers fell to the Rainbow Wahine, 4-1.
The 49ers (26-8) appeared to have an exceptional case for the NCAA Tournament in Gulf Shores, but were left out of the eight-team field, which saw the eight, ninth, and 10th-ranked teams make it to the tournament. Neither Cal Poly nor the 49ers made it in, giving the Big West just one team in the field: Hawaii. That’s despite the Big West having three of the top six-ranked teams in the nation for the last month.
The 49ers did not lose to a single team outside of the top five in the nation yet were left out of the eight-team field.
The news came in the middle of Sunday’s Pairs Tournament, which took place after the team championship was decided. The 49ers performed well in the Pairs competition, with Nele Barber and Sasha Karelov making it to the finals, where they fell in a three-set thriller to Cal Poly’s Torrey Van Winden and Tia Miric.
It was the first year the Big West had held a Pairs tournament, and Barber/Karelov were close to taking the trophy. They won the first set 21-17 and took a lead in the second set before ultimately dropping it 21-18, then losing the third set 15-9.
The two had a strong run in the championship to reach the finals. They rolled to a 21-12, 21-6 win in the opening round over Sacramento State’s Lana Brown and Mikaela Nocetti, and then advanced to the semifinals with a 21-13, 21-13, win over Jessica Manley and Emily Sonny of Cal Poly.
Finally, the seniors grabbed a third win of the day, cruising to a 21-13, 21-9 win over Adlee Van Winden and Taylor Nelson. The victory was the 29th of the year for Sasha Karelov, a new single season record at the Beach.