International Volleyball

Top-seeded UCLA set to play No. 2 Long Beach in NCAA men’s volleyball final

Top-seeded UCLA set to play No. 2 Long Beach in NCAA men's volleyball final

UCLA’s Cooper Robinson hits the roll over the UCI block/Jim Wolf photo

LONG BEACH, California — If it’s filled to capacity Saturday when top-seeded UCLA plays No. 2 Long Beach State for the NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship, the crowd in The Walter Pyramid will have about 10 times the population of Meunster, Saskatchewan.

But Skyler Varga, the 6-foot-7 Long Beach sophomore opposite from that tiny Canadian village, can’t wait.

More on him and Meunster in a bit.

The two top teams in the nation, who split their regular-season non-conference matches, play at 2 p.m. Pacific, 5 p.m. Eastern, on ESPN. 

Yes, the first set and maybe part of the second will be going up against NCAA beach volleyball on ESPN2 and against the Kentucky Derby on NBC, but it’s a big TV step up for the men’s game. If what we expect will be a big-time battle ensues, new viewers who catch the latter stages of the match will be glad they did.

UCLA (25-5), the MPSF regular-season champion, lost in the MPSF final to Grand Canyon. The Bruins opened NCAA play Tuesday with a sweep of Fort Valley State and then Thursday came away with a 22-25, 25-20, 25-16, 18-25, 15-12 victory over fourth-seeded UCI Irvine in the semifinals.

Long Beach State (27-2), the Big West regular-season and tournament champion, opened with a sweep of Belmont Abbey before having to pull off a 24-26, 26-28, 25-18, 25-23, 15-10 semifinals reverse sweep of Grand Canyon.

“We know it’s going to be a great match against a great team,” UCLA coach John Speraw said, “and it’s going to be in a very loud, hostile environment.”

History, recent and way back

UCLA and Long Beach  played twice in the regular season. 

Long Beach won 25-22, 21-25, 25-27, 19-25 on February 9 in The Pyramid to improve to 10-0 at the time. Sotiris Siapanis led Long Beach with 18 kills, Varga had 15, Clarke Godbold 12 and Simon Torwie had three kills and eight blocks. UCLA’s Ido David had 15 kills and Merrick McKenry had 11 to go with six blocks.

The next night, at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins won 29-27, 27-29, 25-19, 25-20 as Long Beach took its first loss. Four Bruins had 10 or more kills, 16 by Grant Sloane. But Sloane injured his ankle in warmups Thursday, missed the UCI match and is most likely not going to play Saturday. Alex Knight had 14 kills and McHenry and Cooper Robinson 10 each. Godbold led Long Beach with 15 kills and Siapanis had 13.

“That was a good series for us,” Long Beach libero Mason…

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