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Penn St. stuns NCAA men’s volleyball No. 1 Hawai’i; UCLA, BYU, Loyola win

Penn State put a different spin on the NCAA Division I-II men’s indoor volleyball landscape by knocking the “0” off of two-time defending national champion Hawaii’s resume Friday night.

The four-set victory in Honolulu by the Nittany Lions (15-2) before a crowd of 6,557 might not fall into the category of “upset of the century” because, after all, the country’s No. 3-ranked team defeated No. 1. Nonetheless, the rare loss by Hawaii (16-1) on its home court in the power-packed OUTRIGGER Invitational ended the Rainbow Warriors’ 25-match winning streak and very well could signal a shakeup at the top of next week’s AVCA national poll.

One night before, Penn State dropped a five-setter to No. 2 UCLA, which plays Hawai’i on Saturday. A victory by UCLA seemingly would vault the Bruins to No. 1. But if  Hawai’i beats UCLA, the voters would have quite the puzzle to ponder.

The “thud” of a loss by No. 1 was the banner headline on a brisk Friday of men’s volleyball across the country. UCLA kept its eyes on the prize in Honolulu, Long Beach State and UC Irvine recorded Big West victories, BYU won in an intersectional matchup of ranked teams, Loyola-Chicago nearly stumbled on the road in the MIVA and Charleston also dodged an upset bullet.

With the score knotted at 23 in the fourth, Penn State of the EIVA got kills from Michal Kowal and Toby Ezeonu to close the show on its 21-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-23 triumph. The Nittany Lions held Hawaii of the Big West to an uncharacteristic .250 hitting. The Rainbow Warriors’ .380 percentage ranked No. 2 in the nation behind UCLA’s .387.

Kowal and Cal Fisher led the Nittany Lions in kills with 12 each, and Fisher popped three aces and made 10 digs. Ezeonu cracked 10 kills while hitting .533, and recorded three blocks, two solo. Aggressive serving by Penn State played a key role in getting Hawaii out of system. The Bows’ big guns, Dimitrio Mouchlias and Spiros Chakas, picked up 16 and 14 kills, respectively, but hit .333 and .222.

UCLA (19-1) of the MPSF whacked .463 as a team in powering past the MIVA’s Purdue Fort Wayne (12-6) 25-20, 25-21, 21-16. The Bruins will carry a 10-match winning streak into their showdown with Hawaii on Saturday night. Returning first-team All-American Ethan Champlin dialed up five of UCLA’s 10 aces and pounded nine kills on 13 swings with no errors. Freshman setter Andrew Rowan had three aces and dished 32 assists. Zach Rama, a 6-foot-8 freshman, contributed 12 kills and hit .409. In the other OUTRIGGER match on Saturday, Penn State will face Purdue Fort Wayne.

In the Big West, No. 4 Long Beach State (10-2, 1-0) ground out a 23-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-23 road victory over UCSB (4-10, 1-1) The score was knotted at 21 in the fourth, but the Gauchos helped the Beach out with two service errors, including one by Ryan Wilcox on match point. Ohio State transfer Sotiris Siapanis, a native of Cyprus, led Long Beach State with 14 kills, two aces and two block assists. Also, No. 6 UC Irvine (11-6, 1-0) crunched visiting UC San Diego (6-11, 0-3) 25-17, 25-23, 25-16. Francesco Sani (12 kills on .476 hitting) paced an efficient Anteaters offense that committed only 10 attack errors. The Big West schedule flip-flops on Saturday: Long Beach State hosts Santa Barbara and Irvine travels to San Diego.

Eighth-ranked BYU (11-6) of the MPSF used a balanced attack to repulse No. 15 Ohio State (11-6) of the MIVA 25-23, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21. The host Cougars got 14 kills each from Luke Benson and Trent Moser, and 13 from Miks Ramanis to offset a noteworthy effort by Buckeyes’ Jacob Pasteur (24 kills on.415 hitting with seven digs). The Cougars entertain Ohio State again on Saturday.

No. 9 Loyola-Chicago needed a reverse sweep on the road against underdog McKendree to remain undefeated in the MIVA. A kill by sophomore Parker Van Buren wrapped up a 20-25, 26-28, 25-22, 25-22, 15-13 nail-biter for the Ramblers (16-2, 8-0), who extended their winning streak to nine. Van Buren, the reigning MIVA offensive player of the week in the MIVA, continued to shine with 21 kills, 10 digs and four block assists. Bryce Wetjen, a 6-foot-7 freshman, put on a show for McKendree (6-9, 1-7) with 25 kills, a .404 hitting percentage and eight digs.

Unsung Mount Olive (5-11) of Conference Carolinas threw a scare into No. 14 Charleston (16-1) of the EIVA on the Cougars’ home floor before succumbing in five tense sets. A kill by Garrett Schnitker put the finishing touch on a 25-17, 25-20, 25-18, 29-31, 15-13 victory by Charleston, which brought up 75 digs. Schnitker logged 20 kills and 14 digs, while setter Diego Villafane dug 16 balls, dished out 63 assists and had three block assists. Pedro Gonzalez, a 6-foot-7 senior middle, helped the Trojans nearly spring the upset with 14 kills on .650 hitting and a half dozen block assists. The teams play again on Saturday.

No. 5 Grand Canyon of the MPSF upped its record to 18-1 with a stay-busy 25-19, 25-14, 25-20 victory over visiting NAIA member Olivet Nazarene (15-5) of Illinois. Sixteen players saw action for the Lopes.

Lewis (12-9) of the MIVA was pushed to five sets on its home court in Romeoville, Illinois, before putting away Conference Carolinas’ Erskine (10-8) 25-20, 25-23, 29-31, 23-25, 15-7. The Flyers notched six consecutive points in the deciding set to gain 11-2 separation behind three kills from John Davis, punctuated by Kevin Kauling’s ace, his third of the match. Syver Drolsum led the victors with 19 kills on .419 hitting with three block assists and eight digs. Erskine got 20 kills, two aces, two block assists and six digs from Jason Sall.

MIVA member Quincy (7-12) dumped independent Maryville 26-28, 25-16, 25-23, 25-18 in St. Louis. In an error-filled affair, the visiting Hawks won while hitting .178 and holding the Saints to .121. French national Roman Deryckere loomed large at the net for Quincy with eight block assists and a solo.

Elsewhere, host George Mason (6-9) of the EIVA got three aces each from Omar Hoyos and setter Georgi Zahariev in a straight-sets victory over independent Limestone (8-7). North Greenville of Conference Carolinas improved to 11-5 with a sweep of visiting independent Tusculum (5-12). The Crusaders’ Tom Curry had seven kills on .467 hitting with two block assists and a solo. Independent Lincoln Memorial (12-4) ran its winning streak to nine, rolling in three over visiting Emmanuel (6-11) of Conference Carolinas. The red-hot Railsplitters hit .517 and limited the Lions to .049. Conference Carolinas’ Belmont Abbey (7-11) put a three-set hurting on Morehouse (0-10), limiting the overmatched SIAC visitors to 21 total points.

Also, host Sacred Heart (5-7, 2-3 NEC) held off Merrimack (6-9, 1-4) in five sets, 15-11 in the fifth; Saint Francis (5-10, 3-2 NEC) of Pennsylvania swept visiting Fairleigh Dickinson (4-9, 1-4) with Trevor Lewis posting nine kills and five digs; D’Youville (5-8) of the NEC notched a four-set road victory over independent American International (2-13) in the first of a back-to-back weekend series, with Jacob Malik picking up 14 kills while hitting .500; host Central State (11-12, 4-1 SIAC) posted a sweep over Benedict (4-3, 1-2), which hit minus-.029; and independent Missouri S&T (8-9) prevailed at home in four over NAIA member Kansas Wesleyan (9-16).

SATURDAY: Four other matches dot the men’s schedule as No. 7 Pepperdine (11-8, 3-2) goes to No. 10 USC (8-8, 1-4) in the MPSF, Princeton (7-8, 2-2) is at NJIT (6-9, 1-2) in the EIVA, Emmanuel is at Tusculum and Belmont Abbey is at the SIAC’s Fort Valley State (4-11).

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Dain Johnson of UCSB jousts with Long Beach State’s Adam Knipe/UCSB photo