Cougars, 49ers look
for big finish

Long Beach State hopes to break
through against BYU in tonight’s
NCAA volleyball final

When the going gets tough, Brigham Young seems to get tougher. At least that has been the case this season for the top-ranked Cougars, especially at the end of matches.

Final Four logo

National Championship

Who: No. 1 BYU (28-4) vs. No. 2 Long Beach State (28-6)

When: Today, 4 p.m.

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

Tickets: $3-15

TV: Live, ESPN2

Radio: None

Series: Long Beach State leads 12-11

Fans of Hawaii volleyball remember all too well March 20, when the Warriors were up 2-0 only to fall in five.

Long Beach State's collective short-term memory has to include last Saturday's defeat to host BYU in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament final. The 49ers won Game 1 and had two game points in Game 2 -- at 29-28 and 30-29 -- only to have the Cougars win in four.

"We've been behind many times," BYU libero Shawn Olmstead said. "I think we're a very well-conditioned team and we just fight and push. Little things happen when you do that and we just kind of roll with it.

"We've been good about scoring points when we need to. That's just our mentality, to go and just keep playing our game."

It's worked 28 times so far this season. The Cougars are hoping it will work for a 29th time when facing the No. 2 49ers at 4 p.m. today for the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship at the Stan Sheriff Center.

It is a rematch of the 1999 national final won by BYU. It is a match anticipated by many as being one of the best in the 35 years of the tournament.

"It's going to be a real good match," said Doug Beal, the U.S. men's national team coach. "Certainly BYU will be the favorite. They have two good five-game wins over Long Beach and just won in four. I'm very impressed with BYU -- they are a team that plays very much under control. And I like their balance.

"But it's not like Long Beach isn't capable of winning. They know BYU well. I wouldn't be surprised if Long Beach won."

The outcome rests literally in the hands of two of the best setters in the country: BYU junior Carlos Moreno, named Wednesday as the national player of the year, and Long Beach State's Tyler Hildebrand, an All-American in only his fourth year of playing the sport.

"Moreno does a really good job of running the offense, keeping everybody involved," Beach coach Alan Knipe said. "None of the teams in this tournament, especially BYU, relies on one guy. That's because they can pass the ball and they have a good setter to distribute it around.

"Obviously, we'd like to disrupt the rhythm of their passers. We think we have the servers to do that. This environment, being at sea level instead of Provo (Utah), will help our serving."

The 49ers proved that Thursday when setting a school NCAA tournament record for aces with seven in the sweep of Penn State.

"There's a lot of keys to the match, but it comes down to the basics, serving and serve receive," BYU coach Tom Peterson said. "If we have good ball control that will help us greatly. If we pass well, we have all our options available and Carlos is very good at spreading it around."

Moreno has the Cougars hitting at a .365 clip to Hildebrand's .349 for the 49ers. Something's got to give.

It could be serving. Both teams feel very comfortable about banging away from the service line here.

The Beach has 159 aces this season, including 37 by Scott Touzinsky. BYU has 103, led by Joe Hillman's 22.

It could be blocking. Both teams are excellent at read-blocking, the Cougars averaging 2.97 blocks per game, the 49ers 2.90.

It could be something intangible, like BYU's ability to come from behind and put teams away. The Cougars are 5-2 in five-game matches and have rallied from 0-2 deficits three times to win.

One of those times was at Long Beach State in conference play on Jan. 28. Two nights later, the 49ers had a 2-0 lead, only to lose in five.

"We have a lot of drills where the coaches put us in pressure situations," Hillman said. "We don't fold."

At least not often this season. But the 49ers hope a fourth time against the Cougars will be the charm.

"There's nothing new (to learn about BYU). We've played them three times," Beach senior middle David Lee said. "We just have to play harder for longer, go harder for longer."

Notes: Both teams have never lost an NCAA semifinal. BYU is 2-1 in previous title matches and Long Beach State is 1-4. The 49ers lost to UCLA in the inaugural NCAA championship in 1970. ... Knipe's parents were born in Northern Ireland. One of his cousins has flown in for the tournament. ... A further review of tournament history shows that Knipe would become the third to win a title as both a player and coach. He was on the 1991 49er title team. The others are Bob Yoder, who played on USC's title team of 1977 and coached the Trojans to the 1988 championship, and Rod Wilde, on Pepperdine's 1978 title team and coach of the Waves during the 1985 championship season.


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