FAIRFAX, Virginia — Even in a high-stakes moment, Hawai’i coach Charlie Wade and Penn State coach Mark Pavlik could laugh about their situation.
During the change-over between the fourth and fifth sets of Thursday night’s national semifinal, the veteran coaches looked at each other and said they couldn’t believe their match was going five sets again.
“It seems like every time we meet them in the national championship tournament, it goes to five,” Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said. “We kind of knew that’s what may have been in the cards.”
After the second-seeded Rainbow Warriors — in front of a large, boisterous, partisan crowd that turned George Mason’s EagleBank Arena into a branch Hawai’ian island — won the first two sets 25-20, 25-23, Penn State rallied to win the next two 25-16, 25-23. Hawai’i, showing the mettle of a two-time defending national champion, gutted out a 15-10 victory in the fifth.
Now Big West-champion Hawai’i (29-2) will play top-seeded MPSF-champion UCLA (30-2) for the NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship at 5 p.m. Saturday. UCLA swept Long Beach State in the first semifinal.
The Hawai’i victory was filled with storylines:
— Penn State’s trio of super seniors — opposite hitter Cal Fisher, setter Cole Bogner and outside hitter Brett Wildman — fighting to keep their stellar careers going for one more night.
— Hawai’i trying to keep its pursuit of a third straight national title intact.
— Hawai’i’ stars Dimitrios Mouchlias, a junior opposite, and senior setter Jakob Thelle trying to finish with another title. Mouchlias announced he is forgoing his final season at Hawai’i to turn pro, and a pro career surely awaits Thelle, the AVCA national player of the year, whose eligibility ends Saturday.
— But perhaps what stood out most was the way Penn State was able to get back into the match with its service pressure.
Wildman kept dealing aces. Seven to be exact. Even junior middle blocker Toby Ezeonu had three aces.
Penn State registered 12 aces in all and forced Hawai’i into a measly .844 receive percentage. That kept Thelle away from the net for most of the third and fourth sets, and he was forced to find his hitters from awkward distances and angles.
“I thought we were prepared to play them from playing Irvine last week,”…
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