FAIRFAX, Virginia – John Speraw has every reason to be the happiest man in Fairfax.
First, the UCLA coach guided his team to a relatively easy sweep of Long Beach State in Thursday’s early semifinal at the NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship. That put the Bruins on the brink of the 20th national title in program history, Speraw’s fourth as a head coach and the first at his alma mater after he won three championships at UC Irvine.
Then he sat and watched a five-set slugfest between Hawai’i and Penn State in the other semifinal, in which the Rainbow Warriors narrowly averted a reverse sweep.
Perhaps the Bruins (30-2) will be a little fresher for Saturday’s championship match — set for 5 p.m. Eastern at George Mason’s EagleBank Arena and on ESPN2 — against two-time defending national champion Hawai’i (29-2).
While Speraw acknowledged his team might have had “a little bit of gas in the tank” to practice a bit harder than Hawai’i on Friday, he isn’t banking on having any significant edge.
“I know in years past (fatigue) was (a factor) because we played these back-to-back, on a Friday-Saturday,” he said. “Maybe the last time was ’95. That was the big issue because Hawai’i and Penn State went five, and we played Ball State and won in three.”
UCLA went on to sweep Penn State for the national title that year.
“I think there was some concern about fatigue back then, so they put the day off in between, which is the right choice,” Speraw continued. “With a day off in between, I think it mitigates it to some degree.”
There seemed to be little concern from the Hawai’i side on the topic.
After Thursday night’s win over Penn State, Rainbow Warriors junior outside hitter Chaz Galloway talked about how being in a five-set NCAA match with Ball State last season prepared them to grind out the win over the Nittany Lions. Likewise, said middle blockers Cole Hogland and Guilherme Voss, it taught the players how to recover physically and emotionally for the next match.
“We had a lot more experience in fifth-set matches last year, especially the Ball State one,” said Hogland, who had four kills and two block assists in Thursday’s win. “Just coming in the next day we get a lot of sleep … just knowing how we did it last year and being in the situation we are today, I think it really helped out that we went to five last year and last night.”
Added Voss, who had six kills and six total blocks…
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