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The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team came up short in the NCAA championship against Hawaii Saturday evening, falling in straight sets in a match that saw them behind late in all three sets, a few points shy of a chance to threaten. The Beach were outblocked 8-1 in the match and fell in straight sets, 25-22, 25-21, 25-20.
“It’s our execution and their quality swings but we weren’t getting blocks,” said LBSU head coach Alan Knipe. “When we did get good touches we didn’t convert. We struggled in that area, and that’s really the backbone of our program, the blocking defense. I’m a little surprised that’s the area we struggled in but it’s the national championship and they’re a great team.”
The Beach had been seeking a third national title in four seasons but instead saw their Big West rivals win a second consecutive championship; the Beach and the Rainbow Warriors have won every NCAA crown since 2017. The loss came despite heroic play from the team’s freshman star Alex Nikolov, the National Player of the Year. Nikolov had 20 kills on .405 hitting with four digs and an ace.
Hawaii was led by setter Jakob Thelle, who set his team to an astounding .434 attack percentage, with the ‘Bows hitting .400 or better in all three sets. The Beach hit .304 as well, and both teams largely handled each other’s intense service pressure. The difference was a Hawaii block that was able to score points in critical moments, holding All-American opposite Clarke Godbold to .071 hitting for the Beach, with six kills and five errors on 14 swings. The team’s other outside hittier, Spencer Olivier, hit .368 and had 11 kills but he also had four hitting errors; the Beach had 17 as a whole, to Hawaii’s eight.
“We started off dialed in and touching a lot of balls,” said Hawaii coach Charlie Wade. “We’ve played them four times in the last month so we’re familiar with them, you feel like you know what’s going to happen and it doesn’t always end up that way. But I thought we were pretty dialed in on the scouting report.”
The Warriors got 11 kills on .500 hitting from Dimitrios Mouchlias and 13 kills on .333 hitting from Spyros Chakas, who was named Most Outstanding Player, with teammates Thelle and Mouchlias on the All-Tournament team. Nikolov and Olivier made the team from Long Beach State.
There was a great crowd on hand with 5,784 in the stands, about evenly split between Long Beach and Hawaii; but the Hawaii fans were much louder than Long Beach’s, with the Beach fans searching for a reason to get involved for most of the evening.
The Beach led 4-2 in the first set but saw a 5-1 run in the middle of the set flip things to Hawaii, and similarly in set two led 10-5 before a 5-0 service run from Thelle tied it up; the ‘Bows got back to back points on kills from Thelle and Guilherme Voss.
Both teams return almost their entire rosters and will be the favorites along with UCLA to make it to next year’s NCAA Final Four, which will be hosted at George Mason University in Virginia. Long Beach State will host the NCAA Final Four at the Walter Pyramid in 2024.