Throughout most of the 2023 season, many who follow men’s volleyball agreed which teams were the top four in the country: UCLA, Penn State, Hawai’i and Long Beach State.
In no particular order.
With the season down to the national semifinals, the four teams still standing are …
It probably doesn’t need to be said.
Thursday’s matches on the campus of George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia, pit top overall seed UCLA (29-2) against Long Beach State (21-4) in the first semifinal at 5 p.m. Eastern and No. 2 seed Hawai’i (28-2) against Penn State (27-3) at 7:30 p.m. The Rainbow Warriors are the two-time defending national champions.
Long Beach advanced by defeating NCAA Tournament newcomer Grand Canyon, 22-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 on Tuesday. Penn State also advanced in four sets, defeating Ohio State, 25-22, 24-26, 25-13, 26-24.
Wednesday, we profiled UCLA and middle Merrick McHenry and setter Andrew Rowan. Earlir this week, we wrote about Long Beach State. When the season was just underway, we wrote about Hawai’i and its Greek standouts, Spryos Chakas and Dimitrios Mouchlias. And Penn State coach Mark Pavlik and UCLA counterpart John Speraw were part of our Zoom after the NCAA bracket was announced.
Here are some notes quotes and numbers heading into the final four:
Hawai’i: The Rainbow Warriors, winners of the past two NCAA titles, are looking to accomplish a feat that hasn’t been done for nearly 40 years: Win at least three consecutive titles. The last team to do it was UCLA, which won four from 1981-84.
Coach Charlie Wade said the title streak isn’t something that’s talked about a lot in their gym. It doesn’t need to be talked about.
“I heard (setter) Jakob Thelle say — probably when we had won the regular-season (Big West) title — ‘We have not accomplished anything meaningful yet,’ ” Wade said. “So as we go through this, the ultimate goal is to win the national championship. We don’t talk a lot about it because everybody knows that’s the goal.”
UCLA: The Bruins have the most men’s volleyball titles in NCAA history (19) but haven’t won one since 2006. UCLA has appeared in only one final since, losing to Long Beach in 2018.
Bruins coach John Speraw has coached three national championship teams, all at UC Irvine (2007, 2009, 2012).
Long Beach State: Coach Alan Knipe’s team won back-to-back titles in 2018-19 then came up short in the championship match last season….
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