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Friday, May 7, 2004



[ THE FINAL FOUR ]


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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Long Beach State's Paul Munoz dug the ball in the backcourt during last night's match.


49ers sweep
past Lions

Long Beach State also beat
Penn State in a 1991 semifinal
here -- on the way to the title


They were one of the most highly regarded recruiting classes at Long Beach State, yet after four years, there was nothing to show for it.

Until now.

Final Four logo

National Championship

Who: Long Beach State vs. Brigham Young

When: Tomorrow, 4 p.m.

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

Starting seniors Scott Touzinsky, Jeff Wootton and David Lee led Long Beach State to a 91-minute sweep of Penn State in front of 2,675 fans yesterday in the NCAA men's volleyball semifinals -- 30-26, 30-26, 30-26.

The 49ers face Brigham Young, winners over Lewis last night, in tomorrow night's final.

"It is kind of a relief," said Touzinsky, who had 13 kills, an ace and three blocks. "We finally get a chance to play in a national championship game.

"Jimmy (Polster), Dave (McKienzie) and Matt (Prosser) did that as sophomores," Touzinsky said, referring to the Beach's heralded class of 2001.

"The big thing for me is that we've done all the work to get here. It's a great feeling to give back to the boosters and the parents on our team."

Many of whom were in attendance at the Stan Sheriff Center last night along with Long Beach mascot Prospector Pete and the 49ers school band. The Beach got coach Alan Knipe one step closer to winning his second national title. Knipe did it as a player 13 years ago in Hawaii at the Blaisdell Arena, a championship that also included a 3-0 victory over Penn State in the semifinal. Yesterday, Knipe guided former coach Ray Ratelle's last recruiting class to its first NCAA final since 1999.

"This brings back great, great, great memories," Ratelle said. "This team is really solid. I recruited most of the seniors and I'm glad to see them do so well this season."

Long Beach's senior leadership was complemented by the setting of sophomore sensation Tyler Hildebrand, who is in just his fourth year of playing volleyball. The first-team All-American showed off his tremendous talent in dishing 41 assists and helping the 49ers outhit the Nittany Lions .326-.234.

"Tyler just gets his team so many good swings in so many awkward situations," Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said. "That was the big difference in the game. Tyler gave them some great swings."

The Beach passed well enough to allow Hildebrand to feed middles Duncan Budinger (11 kills, .667) and Lee (seven kills, .583), who were very effective.

"The big thing is the middle," Touzinsky said. "Duncan and Dave played amazing. Our middles always do. That's the biggest thing about the game. We ride our middles. ... It's much easier for me and the outsides when we have two amazing middles like Duncan and Dave."

The Penn State middles matched up well, but the Nittany Lions didn't pass well enough for setter Dan O'Dell to get the offense in rhythm. O'Dell scrambled all night chasing down shanked passes.

Pavlik liked the matchup with Long Beach State, but he was fearful of his own team's tendency toward self-destruction. His biggest concerns were warranted, as the Lions struggled from the serving line in Game 1 and sent several overpasses that the Beach crushed back. The 49ers outserved the Nittany Lions seven aces to five and had fewer errors from the serving line.

"We didn't pass the ball well," Pavlik said. "We gave Long Beach 11 points where they didn't have to do anything."

There were no major runs in the first game, with the teams trading sideouts and the score tied seven times early. But the Beach got the separation it needed midway through the game. With the score even at 16, the 49ers went on a 4-1 run off two Penn State serving errors and two hitting errors by freshman Alex Gutor. The freshman struggled most of the game and was later replaced in Game 2.

Touzinsky did his best impression of an all-world player in Game 1, hammering eight kills in nine swings, hitting a whopping .889. Touzinsky put the finishing touches on the first game, getting the 49ers to game point and then ending a rally with another kill to seal the game.

A 4-1 Penn State lead in the second game disappeared as quickly as it came. The 49ers chipped away and caught the Lions at 10. The Beach didn't lead by much the rest of the game, but momentum seemed to be on their side.

A serve by PSU's Matt Proper hit the tape and nearly trickled over for an ace, but Jeff Wootton got a hand underneath it and the 49ers sent it back over the net. Penn State's return went into the net and the point went to the 49ers for a 19-17 lead.

"They played well," said Keith Kowal, who led the Nittany Lions' attack, hitting .545 with 15 kills. "Everything they did, they were really precise about.

"When you're that consistent, you're going to have a few balls drop your way. It did seem like there were a few balls that rolled over the net and really got us in some crucial point, but you have to prepare for that and expect that."

By Game 3, the Beach block seemed to know where every set from O'Dell was going. LBSU didn't stuff that many balls in Game 3 but touched enough to add to the frustration of Penn State hitters. A Budinger block gave the 49ers a 24-16 lead.

Penn State made one final run, closing to 27-23 on O'Dell's third ace of the match before two kills from Lee and one from Nathan Hagstrom ended the match.

"We were able to check off one of our goals and we're real happy with that," Knipe said. "We knew Penn State would do some things real well tonight and they did.

"Some of the things they did offensively and serving caused us some problems, but we know that the level we're going to play at Saturday night is going to have to be better than the level we played tonight."

If the 49ers succeed tomorrow, this senior class could do what the previously heralded class could not.


Long Beach St. def. Penn St.

30-26, 30-26, 30-26

Nittany Lions (23-7, 11-1 EIVA)

g k e att pct. bs ba d
Mattei 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 7
O'Dell 3 2 1 4 .250 0 2 2
Proper 3 8 3 17 .294 0 3 1
Rojas 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 3
Wentzel 3 9 4 20 .250 0 2 4
Smith 3 2 3 7 -.143 0 2 1
Gutor 2 1 7 11 -.545 0 1 0
Meerstein 3 7 1 13 .462 0 5 2
Kowal 3 15 3 22 .545 0 3 0
Nowrey 2 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0
Totals 3 44 22 94 .234 0 18 20

49ers (28-6, 18-4 MPSF)

g k e att pct. bs ba d
Wootton 3 9 5 19 .211 0 4 6
Coe 2 0 0 1 .000 0 0 0
Hildebrand 3 2 1 3 .333 0 2 2
Barbosa 2 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0
Hagstrom 3 4 2 13 .154 0 2 6
Touzinsky 3 13 8 26 .192 0 3 2
Kijewaki 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0
Budinger 3 11 1 15 .667 1 6 3
Munoz 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 3
Lee 3 7 0 12 .583 0 4 3
Tarr 1 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0
Totals 3 46 17 89 .326 1 21 25

Key -- g: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct.: hitting percentage; bs: block solos; ba: block assists; d: digs.
Aces -- PSU (5): O'Dell 3, Proper, Gutor. LBSU (7): Wootton 3, Hagstrom 2, Touzinsky, Budinger. Assists -- PSU (44): O'Dell 41, Mattei 2, Wentzel. LBSU (43): Hildebrand 41, Budinger, Munoz.
T -- 1:31. Officials -- Alan Stankaitis, Mike Paull. A -- 2,675.


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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
BYU's Victor Batista and Joe Hillman celebrated after the Cougars took Game 2 last night at the Stan Sheriff Center.


Cougars ground Flyers


Focus.

Focus.

And when things get a little shaky, refocus.

That's what Brigham Young did last night against defending champion Lewis. That's what put the Cougars into the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship title match for the second straight year.

Top-ranked BYU needed just 88 minutes to sweep Lewis 30-21, 30-28, 30-21 in the second semifinal at the Stan Sheriff Center. The Cougars (28-4) advanced to the national final for the fourth time in six seasons and takes on conference rival Long Beach State (28-6) tomorrow at 4 p.m.

It will be a rematch of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation final won last Saturday by the host Cougars in four. The Cougars took all three meetings with the 49ers this year, including regular-season contests that both went five.

"I think we sided out very well," said BYU setter Carlos Moreno, named the national player of the year on Wednesday. "We were able to come together and refocus."

Today, their attention will be focused on beating Long Beach State for a fourth time. It will be the 19th time in the 35-year history of the tournament that it will be an all-MPSF final.

"Everyone has been talking about how difficult it is to beat a team four times," BYU coach Tom Peterson said. "But we have to dwell on the fact that we beat them three times already."

Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe was happy to have another shot at the Cougars.

"It's who we wanted to play," he said. "They've been the No. 1 team for most of the season and the only team we haven't been able to get over the hump on.

"We're looking to put together the best match of the season and hope to win at the right time."

"I love playing against Long Beach," said BYU hitter Jonathan Alleman, who put down 12 kills. "It's going to be a great match. It will be all about who has the biggest heart and who wants it the most."

Last night was a rematch of the 2003 final won by the Flyers in five. Last night, the Cougars got revenge.

"Last year's loss was a huge disappointment," Peterson said. "It was a hard loss for me and what you have to focus on is not to have that same feeling again. Last year hurt for a long time."

It was a disappointing end to the Flyers' challenging season, in which they overcame the loss of two All-Americans during an NCAA investigation that has put their 2003 in question. Lewis (19-14) put it all together to win the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament as the fifth seed, but couldn't sustain it against BYU.

"Playing the No. 1 team in the country can be a little intimidating," Lewis coach Dave Deuser said. "We didn't have the confidence that we had been playing with.

"They were able to get us out of system more than anyone in our conference. That was the biggest difference."

BYU's balanced attack proved too much for Lewis, with all five of the Cougar starting hitters finishing with at least eight kills. Fernando Pessoa added 12 kills and Joe Hillman 11 to go with three of the team's seven aces.

The Flyers were led by Jeff Soler (12 kills) and Fabiano Barreto (11).

A pro-Lewis crowd of 2,675 saw the Flyers mount their best challenge in Game 2. Lewis led 26-25, only to have a kill by Hillman tie it at 26. It was tied twice more, the last at 28, when Alleman's cross-court shot landed just in to give the Cougars game point.

BYU needed just one chance to end it with Victor Batista and Alleman stuffing Barreto's line shot to end it.

The Flyers, who had won their last four, didn't fold. They led until the middle of Game 3, when the Cougars took control.

BYU turned a 16-14 deficit into a 19-16 lead behind the serving of Batista. Soler's 10th kill ended the run but not the Cougar momentum.

BYU went on another run, this one behind the serving of Hillman. He served for four straight points for a 24-17 lead and the Cougars never looked back.


BYU def. Lewis

30-21, 30-28, 30-21

Flyers (19-14, 11-5 MIVA)

g k e att pct. bs ba d
Escalante 3 3 3 9 .000 0 1 1
Castellano 2 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0
Dayton 3 8 7 21 .048 1 2 0
Soler 3 12 3 25 .360 0 0 4
Stuntz 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 6
Barreto 3 11 4 27 .259 0 1 6
Sisk 3 0 3 6 -.500 0 1 4
Pochopien 3 5 1 11 .364 0 3 1
Totals 3 39 21 99 .182 1 8 22

Cougars (28-4, 20-2 MPSF)

g k e att pct. bs ba d
Burke 3 8 3 15 .333 1 2 3
Moreno 3 3 1 7 .286 0 2 7
Gorny 3 1 0 1 1.000 0 0 1
Carpenter 1 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0
Hillman 3 11 3 25 .320 0 2 1
Alleman 3 12 4 25 .320 1 2 5
Neilson 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 0
Olmstead 3 0 0 0 .000 0 0 7
Pessoa 3 12 3 19 .474 0 3 4
Batista 3 8 2 10 .600 0 4 3
Totals 3 55 16 102 .382 2 15 31

Key -- g: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct.: hitting percentage; bs: block solos; ba: block assists; d: digs.
Aces --LU (2): Soler, Pochopien. BYU (7): Hillman 3, Burke, Alleman, Pessoa, Batista. Assists -- LU (34): Sisk 31, Stuntz 2, Pochopien. BYU (52): Moreno 46, Alleman 2, Burke 2, Hillman, Olmstead.
T -- 1:28. Officials -- Mike Paull, Ken Taylor. A --3,707.

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