International Volleyball

UCLA, Long Beach survive wild NCAA men’s volleyball semifinals

UCLA, Long Beach survive wild NCAA men's volleyball semifinals

Simon Torwie leads the Beach celebration/Jim Wolf photo

LONG BEACH, California — In the end, No. 1 will play No. 2.

But what rocky, obstacle-strewn paths UCLA and Long Beach State took to survive and advance to get to Saturday’s title match of the NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship.

Top-seeded UCLA, the defending national champion, opened play Thursday at Long Beach State’s Pyramid with a 22-25, 25-20, 25-16, 18-25,15-12 victory over fourth-seeded UC Irvine.

Protesters outside The Pyramid/Daily 49er Twitter photo

The Bruins won without knowing that the latter half of that match was played in lockdown, no one in and no one out, as the international wave of pro-Palestinian/Gaza protests made it to the campus in full force.

And then second-seeded Long Beach State had to pull off an improbable 24-26, 26-28, 25-18, 25-23, 15-10 reverse sweep against never-say-die Grand Canyon in a match that had no shortage of trash talking and chirping between the teams.

Ten sets. A combined nearly six hours of on-the-edge-of-your-seat, high-flying, big-time-play men’s college volleyball that was ESPN highlight ready — if only the Worldwide Leader were showing either match — that could only be seen on

“Wow,” Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe said. 

“I think both the matches lived up to what everybody was hoping that the four best teams in the country would deliver.”

And then some.

But wait: There’s more. Saturday’s match should be all that and more. The 2 p.m. Pacific final will be shown on ESPN with Paul Sunderland and Kevin Barnett on the mics.

Long Beach State beat UCLA in four on February 9 in the Pyramid as Sotiris Siapanis had 18 kills in the 25-22, 21-25, 25-27, 19-25 victory.

The next day, at UCLA, the Bruins won 29-27, 27-29, 25-19, 25-20 to hand then 10-0 Long Beach State its first loss. Five UCLA players had eight or more kills, 16 by Grant Sloane, who will likely not play Saturday.

UCLA back into the title match

UCLA’s Ido David attacks against UCI/Jim Wolf photo

UCLA (25-5) had to rally in a big way against the Big West’s UC Irvine (20-11) in a match that saw both teams lose key players. UCLA’s Sloane, a 6-foot-8 outside who is fourth on the team in kills, was clearly distraught when he went down with an ankle injury in warmups. 

“We had a quick chat and said let’s do it for Grant,” said UCLA senior Merrick McHenry, the MPSF player of the year.

UCI, leading 11-7 in the first set, then lost 6-2 outside…

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