College volleyball: Hawaii’s season over after NCAA snub

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Roughly 12 hours after being swept by No. 1 Long Beach State in the Big West tournament final, Hawaii’s men’s volleyball season was swept under the rug.

The Rainbow Warriors failed to garner an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament Sunday morning, with one of the two open spots going to UC Irvine, which UH beat the Big West semis.

The snub is likely to draw the ire of Hawaii coach Charlie Wade.

“I wouldn’t say our chance is 100 percent to get in, but I don’t see how they move us down (in the RPI),” Wade told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Saturday night after UH fell to 19-8. “If they don’t take us, who was No. 2 team and the No. 2 seed in the No. 1 conference, with a top-five RPI, then who? I think if they were to take someone else, then the RPI means nothing.”

The other at-large selection went to UCLA, which is hosting the national tournament beginning with the two first-round matches on May 1.

Coming into the week, the Ratings Percentage Index, which ranks teams based on factors including strength of schedule, had Long Beach State at 1, followed by Brigham Young, UCLA, UC Irvine, Hawaii, Loyola-Chicago and Ohio State.

The Rainbow Warriors were the only team to beat Long Beach State and UCLA, as well as defeating Irvine twice. UCI also beat UH once.

“I’ve been on both sides (of getting an at-large berth),” Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe said after his team kept the Warriors out of system for most of the 102 minutes at the Walter Pyramid, “and it’s not an ideal situation to have to wait on a committee.”

The 49ers had no such worries on Saturday night when they won the inaugural Big West tournament title, doing so in convincing fashion. Junior setter Josh Tuaniga, named the tourney’s most valuable player, orchestrated an efficient and balanced attack that kept the Warriors off-balance.

Long Beach State hit .369, just 10 points off its national-best percentage coming into the match. Two-time league MVP TJ DeFalco, a junior hitter, and junior opposite Kyle Ensing each had eight kills and senior hitter Bjarne Huus, who had seven kills on 12 swings with no errors for the 49ers as they ran their home winning streak to 29 dating back to 2016.

Hawaii sophomore opposite Rado Parapunov finished with a match-high 10 kills but had eight errors, mostly when being blocked. Junior hitter Brett Rosenmeier added eight kills.

The 49ers focused on shutting down junior middle Dalton Solbrig, who had nine kills without an error in Friday’s win over UC Irvine. He had three kills and four errors, hitting -.143.

“We had the same plan when we were in Hawaii and didn’t execute that,” Knipe said of Solbrig, who had a combined 18 kills with two errors in the two matches at the Stan Sheriff Center

The Beach kept the pressure on from the service line all night, with 10 aces and other heaters that shook Hawaii’s normally steady serve-receive. What has been one of the Warriors’ strengths — their passing — became a liability, which limited junior setter Joe Worsley’s options.

“Hats off to Long Beach,” Worsley said after his team hit a season-low.152. “They were really going after it from the service line. When they’re reeling like that (from the service line), it’s really tough to stop them.”

Hawaii led just once the entire match, that at 1-0 to open Set 2, and that was on a 49ers service error. As close as Set 1 had been, with the Warriors fending off two set points to close to 24-23, the rest of the night was the complete opposite.

Wade said he thought the team had heavy legs during Saturday’s practice, some obvious signs of fatigue from the travel.

“We didn’t have quite the same bounce that we usually had,” he said. “If we had closed out the first set, maybe it’s a little different outcome. Second set, they had a couple nice serving runs and once they get a lead, Josh can get pretty creative.

“Same thing happened in the third when we got way down. That’s the disappointment, in getting behind early and our serve-reception, one of our strong suits.

“I still think we’re a very good volleyball team and we deserve for our season to continue.”

The NCAA thought otherwise.

On Saturday night, BYU defeated UCLA for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title and automatic bid, and Ohio State defeated Loyola-Chicago for the MIVA’s automatic bid. The other automatic bids went to Harvard in the EIVA and King in Conference Carolinas.