The men are keeping pace with the women.

Nearly six months after the greatest NCAA women’s final four in history, the men have put on a volleyball competition worthy of comparison and then some.

In Thursday night’s national semifinals at UCLA, top-seeded Long Beach State pulled a reverse sweep to beat the host Bruins 18-25, 18-25, 25-15, 25-10, 16-14.

“After being down 0-2, that was one heck of a response against a really good team playing really well at that time in their building,” Long Beach coach Alan Knipe said.

And then, in the second match of the NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship, Hawai’i also rallied for a 28-26, 19-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-11 victory over second-seeded Ball State.

“We didn’t want to go home early,” Hawai’i’s Spyros Chakas said. “It’s too early for that.”

“Tonight, you saw two really great teams go after it,” first-year Ball State coach Donan Cruz said. “And that’s the defending champion.”

Will Saturday’s men’s final rival Wisconsin’s five-set national-title women’s victory over Nebraska last December? 

In the Big West regular season, Hawai’i went to Long Beach for two matches April 1-2. Long Beach won in four sets both nights. Then in the Big West Tournament championship match, Hawai’i swept the Beach.

Either way, there will be a Big West national champion for the fourth (almost) year in a row. Long Beach won it all in 2018 and 2019, the 2020 championship was canceled, and Hawai’i won it all last year.

The NCAA championship match Saturday at Pauley Pavilion is at 5 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. Eastern, and will be shown on ESPN2.

The recaps from the semifinals follow and also the news that Pepperdine coach David Hunt has resigned.

Long Beach’s Alex Nikolov makes quick transition from hitting to setting, isolating two UCLA blockers/Jim Wolf photo

LONG BEACH 3, UCLA 2 — UCLA dominated the first two sets.

“Obviously, we played great,” said UCLA coach John Speraw, whose team won the MPSF this season and finished 22-5. “We were rolling in the first two (sets). When you’re up two, there are so many times when the first three or four points in the third set are critical. Right out of the gates, Alan did a nice job of using number 11 (Simon Torwie). He came in and served them into the third set, and served them out of the third set, and that just gave them the energy they needed to get going.”

Torwie, who served an ace to end the match, had four aces and five errors, no kills, two solo blocks and a dig. Long Beach (21-5) hit .412, had seven aces and 20 errors and now will play in the school’s ninth NCAA final.

UCLA hit .288 and had six aces and 22 errors.

“At the end of the day, this match was almost entirely about serving and passing,” Speraw said. “I know we always say that in volleyball, and I think this match really highlighted that. We served really, really well. Got them out of system, got a bunch of early aces — which is tough to do against Long Beach – in the first set.”

Alex Nikolov led Long Beach with 20 kills and hit .405 after having three errors in 42 attacks. He added three assists, an ace, six digs and two blocks, one solo. Clarke Godbold had 11 kills with no errors in 16 attacks, an assist, an ace, seven digs and two blocks, one solo. Spencer Olivier had nine kills, two blocks and three digs, and Shane Foldaway had six kills in seven errorless swings and a dig. Aidan Knipe, playing the end of the last set with his hand bandaged, added 37 assists, a block and four digs. 

Long Beach’s Mason Briggs, left, and Alex Nikolov collide on serve reception/Jim Wolf photo

Ethan Champlin led a balanced UCLA attack with 13 kills as he hit .348 and had an assist, three aces, a block and four digs. Alex Knight had 10 kills, three assists, a block and eight digs. Kevin Kobrine had nine kills, an assist, an ace, a block and six digs. Merrick McHenry had eight kills with one error in 10 attacks, a block and a dig. Guy Genis had seven kills with one error in 10 attacks, two aces, two blocks and a dig. Miles Partain had two kills, 41 assists, no aces and six errors, nine digs and three blocks, one solo. 

Long Beach went up 14-13 in the fifth on a kill by Olivier but gave it right back on his serving error. Long Beach went ahead 15-14 on an absolute bomb of a kill by Nikolov and ended it on Torwie’s ace.

“We’ve seen Torwie win sets in the past,” Speraw said. “If you look back on some of the matches, we knew he was a player capable of doing that. And so, what he hasn’t done is do it in sequential sets. He just got rolling all the way through. For me, that was the difference — just him. The other guys got going, too, but I think he was the difference.”

“He was a huge difference-maker in a lot of areas,” Coach Alan Knipe of Long Beach said of Torwie. “He blocked some key balls for us, and he created a lot of problems from behind the end line, serving. And he’s been doing that all season. We’ve been trying to get him on the court many different times, mainly because of his serving. Just a big moment, and he’s been working his butt off to be good in this moment. He bounces back and forth from the right to the middle for us, and he hasn’t said one thing about it other than ‘Whatever it takes.’ You’re pulling for kids in that situation to get these kind of moments and then perform, so it’s a big deal. Yeah, he was awesome tonight.”

Long Beach and UCLA split their regular-season matches. 

“What a match. I think that’s what we’ve come to get used to when we play these guys,” Alan Knipe said. “Credit to UCLA. They played great. They put a ton of pressure on us right out of the gate. That was really kind of the whole match. They got pressure on us early, and we got pressure on them late. And then it was just a race to 15. We’re really excited to play on Saturday night. Those matches can go either way. But I have to give my crew a ton of credit for their grit.

HAWAI’I 3, BALL STATE 2 — Hawai’i had the upper hand in the fifth set, building a 7-2 lead. The Rainbow Warriors were up 12-7 before Ball State rallied, closing to 14-11, but Hawai’i ended it on a kill by Dimitrios Mouchlias. He and fellow Greek Spyros Chakas led the way with 19 kills each as UH hit .241 and had 13 aces and 18 errors.

Mouchlias had an assist, three aces, nine digs and four blocks, one solo. Chakas had an assist, two aces two blocks and 10 digs. Chaz Galloway, one of the players out when Hawai’i lost back-to-back matches at Ball State in the regular season, had 10 kills, an assist, an ace, three blocks and nine digs. Guilherme Voss, who also missed the Ball State matches, had eight kills, hit .424 and had five blocks. Setter Jakob Thelle, also out earlier against Ball State, had two kills, 56 assists, four aces and five errors, a block and six digs. Brett Sheward had 16 digs and two assists.

“Kind of a do-or-die situation,” Sheward said. “Just played hard. Obviously, energy went up right from the start. It was a good fight, for sure.”

Dimitrios Mouchlia, left, and Guilherme Voss of Hawai’i are all over this Ball State attack/Jim Wolf photo

“I’m proud of our guys, just to gut it out. It wasn’t pretty,” UH coach Charlie Wade said. “I thought, the second set, we hit some balls out, kind of uncharacteristically. But guys stayed confident, and our defense got a little better, our serve-receive tightened up and (we were) able to get the win.”

Ball State, the MIVA champion and in the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2002, finished 23-4.

“Obviously, a little bummed about that loss, but for our path and our journey this season, to be able to fight the defending champions the way we did, in five, I thought we had some good plays there,” said Cruz, the Ball State coach. “They just made a few more than we did. As we think about the growth and the year, to be able to get this point, simply what we spoke about in that last huddle was, ‘There’s really nothing to hang our heads on.’ 

“Although this stings at this moment, as a group, moving forward, these are the things that really get us to that championship mindset. We talk about it a lot. Part of playing the game is you can win and you can lose.”

Ball State hit .262 and had seven aces and 13 errors. Kaleb Jenness led with 18 kills, hitting .359 to go with three assists, an ace, six blocks and 11 digs. Angelos Mandilaris had 15 kills, two aces, seven blocks and eight digs. Nick Martinski had six kills, an assist, an ace, four blocks and eight digs. Felix Egharevba had five kills with one error in 10 attacks and nine blocks, one solo. Quinn Isaacson had two kills in three errorless tries, 40 assists, two aces, four blocks and six digs.

“I want to congratulate Ball State on an unbelievable year,” Wade said. “Everything, from the coach, the players, just class act all year. We were down, played them twice and were there for five days, then just seeing them around here, just have a lot of Aloha for everybody in that program and thought they had an amazing season. 

“And they play at a really high level. Like I said earlier in the week, that’s as veteran a group of athletes as you can have in college athletics. And they played at a really high level. They were serving unbelievably well through, like, three sets. I think at one point they had three errors. They were at like 95-96 percent and really putting some pressure on us and I, more than most, respect that and appreciate that, because that’s something that we pride ourselves on. They were really playing at a high level and serving the ball tough. Congrats to Ball State. They had a great year.”

HUNT LEAVING PEPPERDINE — In one of the worst-kept secrets in men’s volleyball, Pepperdine coach David Hunt announced that he’s resigning after five seasons as head coach. He was at Pepperdine for 15 years overall, first as video coordinator and as a volunteer coach for Marv Dunphy. He became a full-time assistant in 2010 and took over in 2017 when Dunphy retired.

Pepperdine went 76-38 under Hunt. This season, the Waves finished 19-10 after winning the MPSF championship match and losing to UCLA in the NCAA tourney on Tuesday.

Last year, after Jordan Larson and the USA won the Olympics gold medal, Hunt and Larson married. She took a job as an assistant coach at Texas, but is finishing her pro season in Italy before returning to Austin.

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Ball State’s Felix Egharevba, left, and Nick Martinski block Spyros Chakas’ back-row attack/Jim Wolf photo


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