NCAA volleyball: Men’s play-ins Tuesday with OSU-UCI, UCLA-Harvard

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David Kniffin-UCI-UC Irvine-Anteaters-MPSF-NCAA volleyball-men's volleyball
UCI's David Kniffin leads his team in MPSF tournament play/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

As top-seeded Long Beach State and No. 2 BYU wait for Thursday’s semifinals, the NCAA men’s Division I-II tournament begins in earnest Tuesday night at UCLA.

And we mean night, because the second match — between Harvard of the EIVA (13-13) vs. UCLA of the MPSF )24-7) is scheduled to begin at 10:30 Eastern, 7:30 on the West Coast. That’s a late start for the Boston audience.

The first match of what is officially known as the 2018 National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship pits two-time defending-champion Ohio State of the MIVA (24-5) against UC Irvine of the Big West (21-9) at 5 p.m. local, 8 p.m Eastern.

Both matches will be shown on Pac-12.com.

This is the first meeting this season in both semifinals. UC Irvine was cruising along until March 30, when it lost back-to-back matches with Long Beach, beat CSUN twice, split with UC Santa Barbara and then beat UC San Diego in the Big West tournament before losing to Hawai’i. In other words, the relatively young Anteaters are 4-4 in their last eight matches.

“With our current lineup, we really only returned one starter,” UCI coach David Kniffin said during that stretch. So even though we’ve got guys who are in their third and fourth years of the program, it’s a young team in terms of experience on the court.

“But I do think we’re getting a lot out of them.”

That’s certainly true with sophomore middle Scott Stadick. The 7-footer broke his own UCI record with 29 solo blocks and has 124 block assists. He has hit .418 and the team .332.

Junior right-side Karl Apfelbach leads with 3.80 kills per set and junior outside Aaron Koubi averages 2.78.

It is UCI’s seventh trip (2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015) to the NCAA postseason. The Anteaters won it all in 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013.

Ohio State’s powerful attack is led by experienced talent in senior outside Nicolas Szerszen (3.72 kills/set, 58 aces), senior outside Maxime Hervoir (3.30 kills), junior middle Blake Leeson (1.68 kills, 94 blocks, 18 solo) and freshman opposite Jake Hanes (3.57 kils, 61 blocks).

Ohio State has won three NCAA titles in the last eight years (2011, 2016, 2017).

On paper, UCLA is an overwhelming favorite in the other match. Senior opposite Christian Hessenauer leads with 3.40 kills per set, sophomore middle Daenan Gyimah adds 2.31 kills and had 41 aces and junior outside Dylan Missry averaged 2.20 kills. Senior outside Jake Arnitz averages 2.26 kills. Gyimah leads with 135 blocks, 13 solo, while Hessenauer had 91 blocks and setter Micah Ma’a had 62.

UCLA has won 19 titles, the last in 2006.

Harvard won the EIVA for the first time and is in the NCAA for the first time. The Crimson lost their last two regular-season matches to George Mason, but then upset Penn State and Princeton in the league tournament. The leader is senior Brad Gretsch, who averages 3.48 kills and has 36 blocks. Sophomore outside Erik Johnsson averages 2.12 kills.

The Ohio State-UCI winner gets Long Beach State in the first semifinal Thursday, while the UCLA-Harvard winner plays BYU.

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