Wasn’t that fun?
Even if Hawaii and Long Beach State meet two weeks from now for the NCAA championship, the atmosphere in the Walter Pyramid will pale in comparison to what the Rainbow Warriors, 49ers and some 9,500 of their closest friends experienced Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
With the Warriors playing in front of their third sold-out crowd in as many Saturdays — following both teams’ senior nights — the Big West tournament championship match was one for the ages.
No one fell asleep in this one that lasted 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Led by senior Stijn van Tilburg’s 25 kills with no errors and junior hitter Colton Cowell’s career-high 18 kills and 12 digs, second-seeded Hawaii earned its first conference tournament title by upsetting top-seeded Long Beach State 25-15, 25-23, 22-25, 20-25, 15-8.
The Warriors (27-2) finished 16-0 at home and tied the program record for most wins. It was Hawaii’s first win in a conference final in six tries.
Although Hawaii defeated Long Beach State on Saturday, the 49ers are expected to be the top seed in the NCAA tournament. The Warriors likely will be seeded second as an at-large selection.
The NCAA selection show is scheduled for today at 7 a.m. on NCAA.com.
Conference player of the year Kyle Ensing finished with 21 kills and 2017 national player of the year TJ DeFalco added 19 kills and 10 digs for Long Beach State (26-2). The 49ers were the only top seed not to win their conference tournaments and the only top seed not to have been playing at home.
Also on Saturday, Pepperdine won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, sweeping USC 25-23, 25-21, 27-25; Lewis swept Loyola 25-17, 25-18, 25-19 for the MIVA; and Princeton will be making its first NCAA appearance in 21 years after outlasting Penn State 28-26, 22-25, 25-18, 20-25, 15-13 in the EIVA.
Earlier in the week, top-seeded Barton won the Conference Carolinas tournament when turning back King in five.
The other at-large likely will go to USC, although also under consideration are UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara.