LBSU and UCLA men's volleyball teams
Long Beach State, left, and UCLA celebrate their semifinal victories

LONG BEACH, Calif. (May 2, 2024) – The UCLA and Long Beach State men’s volleyball teams each won five-set, roller-coaster matches on Thursday to advance from the semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship at the Pyramid at Long Beach State.

The two will face each other in the final at 2:10 p.m. on Saturday. Fans who can’t make it to the Pyramid can watch on ESPN.

UCLA will be looking for its second straight NCAA title and its 21st overall. Long Beach State will be looking for its fourth national title.

The two teams last played each other for the title in 2018 when LBSU won 3-2 at Pauley Pavilion at UCLA.

UCLA def. UC Irvine 3-2 (22-25, 25-20, 25-16, 18-25, 15-12)

Senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin had 20.5 points, including a season-high 19 kills, and senior middle blocker Merrick McHenry had 13 points in helping the Bruins get past the Anteaters in the first semifinal match. Both players are on the U.S. Men’s roster for the Volleyball Nations League, which starts May 21.

UCLA setter Andrew Rowan has played with the U.S. Men’s National Team as well as U19 and U21 teams.

After the two teams exchanged set wins, UCLA took an 8-6 lead at the side change in the fifth. Irvine came back with three straight points on two kills and a UCLA error to lead 9-8. The teams exchanged points until it was 11 all. Irvine committed two straight errors to put UCLA ahead 13-11. McHenry gave UCLA match point with a kill and Champlin followed with the game-winning attack.

UC Irvine was led by AVCA Player of the Year Hillir Henno of France with 26.5 points. Irvine outside hitter Akhil Tangutur, a member of the 2018 U.S. Boys U19 Team, injured his leg in the first set and did not return to the match.

“To (Irvine’s) credit, they lose Akhil and they just keep coming,” UCLA Head Coach John Speraw said. “Everyone else on that team stepped up and played great.

“I’m just really proud of our guys for going through that emotional up and down, which we haven’t experienced yet this year. To come back from being a little bit down in the fifth, to tying it, and then making some plays at the end; you couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

Long Beach State def. Grand Canyon 3-2 (24-26, 26-28, 25-18, 25-23, 15-10)

Seeing its team down 0-2 and losing the third set 9-6 had the Long Beach State fan base sitting on its hands. That didn’t last long as senior outside hitter Nathan Harlan came in off the bench and sparked a 5-0 scoring run for the Beach with a pair of kills and a block.

“(Harlan) gave us just that little bit of energy that we needed to get us back into it,” LBSU Head Coach Alan Knipe said. “I’ve got to thank the amazing LB Nation crowd. You could feel the crowd, not just hear them. That was huge.”

The Long Beach State fans found their voices in a big way and shook the Pyramid, willing their team to the 3-2 victory.

Long Beach libero Mason Briggs, who has played with the U.S. Men’s National Team, was credited with 29 receptions and 10 digs. Setter Aidan Knipe, who played on the 2018 U.S. Boys U19 Team, earned a season-best 52 assists.

Grand Canyon was paced by outside hitter Camden Gianni, who has played with the U.S. Men’s National Team. Gianni scored 20.5 points, including 17 kills. GCU Setter Nicholas Slight is on the 2024 U.S. Men’s roster for VNL.