International Volleyball

NCAA volleyball logjam – led by Long Beach, UCLA – as postseason looms (at) large

NCAA volleyball logjam - led by Long Beach, UCLA - as postseason looms (at) large

UC Irvine’s Hilir Henno/Jim Wolf photo

As the NCAA Division I-II men’s regular season winds down this week and conference tournaments begin, everyone seems to be chasing Long Beach State, the near unanimous No. 1 in the AVCA coaches poll

But can No. 2 UCLA defend its title?

And if Long Beach wins the Big West and UCLA the MPSF, which of either No. 3 Grand Canyon, No. 4 UC Irvine or No. 5 Hawai’i will get left out of the eight-team NCAA field?

The National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship at Long Beach State starts with quarterfinals April 30 that will include six winners of automatic bids and just two at-large teams. That means a pretty stout squad will be left out.

Automatic bids go to winners of the Big West, Conference Carolinas, EIVA, MIVA, MPSF and — for the first time — the SIAC.

That means just two at-large bids in the eight-team bracket, which will make for some difficult decisions for the NCAA selection committee.

The tournament at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid has a traditional format of the No. 1 seed vs. No. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5. 

The semifinals are May 2 and the national-championship match is May 4.

Big West

When the season began, Long Beach State, on paper, seemed to have the necessary chops to unseat UCLA as national champion. Coach Alan Knipe’s team (22-1, 8-0 Big West) has done nothing to alter that notion.

Behind a staunch defense that leads the nation in blocks per set (3.36) – freshman Lazar Bouchkov (1.37) and senior Simon Torwie (1.32) rank first and third nationally – Beach limits opponents to just .166 hitting. Also tops in the nation, by the way.

Having arguably the best libero in the nation (senior Mason Briggs, sixth in the country at 2.43 digs per set) doesn’t hurt the defense’s numbers either.

The Beach is riding a 12-match winning streak during which it has dropped only seven sets. Long Beach concludes the regular season with a home-and-home showdown with Cal Irvine.

UC Irvine (17-8, 6-2 Big West) is coming off a split with Hawai’i, emblematic of what has been a see-saw year. 

UCI has wins over Hawai’i, No. 6 BYU (twice) and GCU, which held the top spot in the poll briefly this season. But the Anteaters also have lost twice to Hawai’i (one in the out-of-conference Outrigger Invitational), twice to UCLA and once each to Lewis and CSUN.

UCI’s Hilir Henno goes line against UCLA/UCI photo

But coach David Kniffin is confident his team is capable of lasting awhile in the postseason….

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