NCAA men’s semis Thursday: Ohio State vs. LBSU, UCLA vs. BYU

Nicolas Szerszen-Ohio State-OsU-Buckeyes
Ohio State's Nicolas Szerszen leads the Buckeyes against Long Beach on Thursday/Ed Chan,

LOS ANGELES: The NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship semifinals are Thursday at UCLA and can be seen on Saturday’s final will be shown on ESPN2. The matchups:

Top-seeded Long Beach State (26-1) vs. Ohio State (25-5) at 5 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. Eastern. 

Second-seeded BYU (22-6) vs. UCLA (25-7) at 7:30 p.m. Pacific, 10:30 Eastern.

Long Beach State, the Big West Conference champion, hasn’t played since winning that league’s title on April 21.

“It’s part of the deal. If you play the season out and get rewarded with the time off, it’s what you want,” Long Beach coach Alan Knipe said. “We prepped for this over the course of the year.

“We had a bye in the conference tournament as well. It’s not like we haven’t been playing volleyball. We know we’re facing a team that played on Tuesday, and it comes down
to ‘which do you prefer?’ You get a chance to get your legs under you and play on the court a little bit and then
it turns into a five-gamer, or you get a break and get to work on some things.”

Ohio State of the MIVA, rather, is coming off two victories, a play-in last Thursday in which the Buckeyes swept King and then Tuesday’s thriller when they outlasted UC Irvine 25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 22-25, 16-14 in a match that took 2 hours, 25 minutes.

Ohio State has won the last two NCAA titles. For that matter, the MIVA has won the last four crowns (Loyola in 2014, 2015). Long Beach State has been regarded as the nation’s best team all season long and sustained its only loss in the last match of the regular season, at Hawai’i in five.

This is the first meeting of the teams this season. But the last they played, at Ohio State a year ago, the Buckeyes won their NCAA semifinal match.

“Well, it should be an exciting match,” Ohio State’s Hanson said. “Looking forward to playing the No. 1 team in the country and trying to continue our journey to getting to the finals and hopefully playing for another national championship.

“But, you know, it’s going to be a tall challenge for the Buckeyes. Long Beach is obviously a great team and they’ve kind of been on a mission since last year when we saw them in Columbus.”

Like Long Beach, BYU has been off since April 21 when it beat UCLA to win the MPSF Tournament. But that was at BYU. This will be the fourth time these teams play this season. BYU won in three at home on March 3. UCLA returned the favor in Pauley Pavilion, site of Thursday’s matches, on April 7. And then BYU won at home in four, rallying from 0-1 to win 17-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-21.

“UCLA, they have some incredible athletes,” BYU senior middle Price Jarman said. “I think that’s apparent when you watch them play and their style of play shows that. They’ve got some guys with super-high volleyball IQs who play the game at a really high level.

“I think this will be like our 10th or 11th time playing them in our career and every single time we’ve played them, it’s been an absolute battle and points don’t come easy. That’s kind of the matchup we expect is two physical teams that aren’t really willing to concede.”

AVCA honors LBSU’s Tuaniga: Josh Tuaniga, Long Beach State’s junior setter, was named the AVCA national player of the year on Wednesday. His junior teammate, TJ DeFalco, won the award last year. DeFalco was this season’s Big West player of the year.