Champions: Long Beach men go back-to-back with four-set win over Hawai’i

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Long Beach State celebrates late in the fourth set/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

LONG BEACH, Calif. — In the end, it was Long Beach State again.

And this time it didn’t go five. Instead, the Beach rallied after losing the first set, 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-23.

“Wow. What an incredible match and what an incredible series with these guys,” Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe said. “You know, for the last month. I’ve said it before it, it literally felt, I guess that I’m not an NBA coach, but it felt like an NBA finals to me.”

No wonder. These same teams finished the Big West regular season in the Pyramid and Long Beach won both in five at home. Then Hawai’i won in five on its home court to win the Big West tournament title.

Which set up their fourth match in three weeks. The end result was Long Beach winning at home for the 42nd time in a row, a streak begun in 2016.

“Hopefully everyone got to see the brand of volleyball that was played,” said Knipe, whose program won the 1991 — when he was a player — and 2018 titles. “But hopefully also you got to see the absolute respect that both these two teams have for one another. And I think that was something on display. All four matches we’ve played against these guys.”

Long Beach finished its season 28-2, the only other loss coming to USC in a non-conference match March 23. Hawai’i finished 28-3, losing only to Long Beach at Long Beach.

Saturday, TJ DeFalco sparkled again, leading all players with 20 kills. He hit .516, had four assists, three of his team’s eight aces, five digs and three blocks.

Kyle Ensing had 13 kills, hit .333, and had three digs and three blocks. Ethan Siegfried had six kills, five digs and four blocks. Simon Anderson had five kills with no errors in nine swings to hit .556 to go with six blocks, one solo. Nick Amado also had five kills in nine errorless attacks and had four blocks. And setter Josh Tuaniga had three kills in six attacks and hit .333 to go with 43 assists, three aces, five digs and two blocks.

“Back to back national championships, especially in our senior year is definitely one of the most exciting times of our lives,” Ensing said. “We always tell ourselves this is going to be one of the greatest memories our life every time you play.

“And just winning back to back, it’s just been a blessing and it’s just awesome to think about.”

With an announced crowd of 3,824 on hand, Long Beach hit .427 and Hawai’i hit .324. Long Beach held a 12-4 block advantage.

Rado Parapunov led Hawai’i with 16 kills and hit .303. Stijn van Tilburg had 11 kills, hit .333, and added an assist and seven digs. Colton Cowell had 10 kills, an assist, four digs and a block. Setter Joe Worsley was perfect on four attacks, had 42 assists, two aces, six digs and a block.

Congratulations to Long Beach State,” Hawai’i coach Charlie Wade said. “That’s a remarkable team with great players. They’ve had unbelievable careers and they played well tonight.”

Hawai’i won the most matches in program history. The Rainbow Warriors, who beat UC Santa Barbara 3-1 on April 6, won their first 74 sets to open the season, an NCAA record.

Hawai’i won the 2002 NCAA title, but was forced to give it up because it used an ineligible player.

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