Rainbow Warriors rally to beat Penn State, advance to NCAA Tournament semifinal

Stijn Van Tilburg // Hawaii Athletics

The fourth-seeded University of Hawai’i men’s volleyball team kicked it into high gear in the fourth and fifth set to pull away from fifth-seeded Penn State in the opening round of the NCAA Championship, 23-25, 27-25, 17-25, 25-14, 15-4 at the St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Hawai’i tied their season-high with 17.5 total blocks and  outscored the Nittany Lions 31-to-11 to end the match and closed out the deciding set on an 8-0 run on Tuesday night. With the win, Hawai’i advances to play host and top-seed Ohio State in the semifinals Thursday at 8:00 p.m. ET. The Rainbow Warriors improved to 27-5 overall—tying the school’s all-time single season record for most wins.

Sophomore outside hitter Stijn van Tilburg led Hawai’i with 20 kills and added seven digs and six blocks, while fellow sophomore outside Brett Rosenmeier added 13 kills, nine digs, and a career-high six blocks. Senior setter Jennings Franciskovic dished out 49 assists with five kills, seven digs, five blocks and a service ace. Sophomore libero Larry Tuileta recorded a match-high 10 digs and had two assists in the match.

But it was freshman Austin Matautia who came off the bench to spark the Rainbow Warriors when they needed it in the second set. Matautia finished the match hitting a match- and career-high .778 hitting percentage with seven kills and no errors in nine attacks. He also contributed with a block an assist and a service ace and he served the final seven points of the fifth set en route to the win.

“At one point we have been a pretty veteran team, and at one point, I look out there and we got, you know, a couple freshman and three to four sophomores on the court and it’s like, we got pretty young in a hurry, but they’re good players. They’re guys that have worked hard and got some experience so I’m just proud of the effort that they put into it. They never gave up, they believed in each other and came out with a win,” said head coach Charlie Wade.

As a team, the Rainbow Warriors were even in kills but Penn State committed 35 attack errors to UH’s 24 and the ‘Bows out-hit the Nittany Lions, .276-to-.143. Hawai’i also had the advange in digs, 39-to-33 and blocks 17.5-to-11.0.

Early in Set 1, the Lions took a 10-6 lead before the Warriors responded with five unanswered. PSU then used a 6-2 run for a 17-14 lead but UH answered back to tie it at 18. The game was tied five more times until the Lions closed it out by blocking Brett Rosenmeier on set point.

In Set 2, the Warriors jumped out to a 12-7 lead. The Lions erased that deficit by using a 12-4 run to take a 19-16 lead. The Warriors trailed 23-20 but scored three straight including a stuff block on Mende to tie it. UH sent it to overtime with van Tilburg’s 11th kill and erased a second set point with a kill by Rosenmeier. The Warriors rejected Albrecht giving them their first set point and Albrecht hit wide to end it as UH used a set-ending 8-2 run.

PSU surged ahead 11-9 in Set 3. At 16-14, the Lions out-scored the Warriors 9-3 the rest of the set to win going away 25-17.

But the ‘Bows would battle back in the fourth. UH jumped out to an early 8-4 lead and then extended the lead to 14-8 by scoring three unanswered. UH then ran away with it scoring six-straight including an ace by Joe Worsley for a 22-12 lead. Hawai’i as a team out-hit the Nittany Lions, .474-to-.000 in the set and would go on to win the fourth set, 25-14.

In the fifth set, it was a race to 15 with the Rainbow Warriors dominating at the net, hitting .583 to Penn State’s -.190 in the final set. Hawai’i scored the first three quick points off Penn State hitting errors which resulted in a Nittany Lion timeout. Hawai’i extended its lead to 6-1 on back-to-back kills by Franciskovic and another PSU hitting error forcing the Nittany Lions to call their second timeout even before the changeover. Hawai’i scored the last eight-straight points behind the serving of Matautia for the win, 15-4.

The match was a rematch of the 2015 NCAA Play-In match won by the Nittany Lions in Stanford, Calif. Hawai’i now holds a 3-2 edge over Penn State in all-time NCAA tournament matches.

In the day’s other opening round match, third-seeded BYU defeated Barton, 25-19, 25-11, 25-15 to advance to the semifinals against Long Beach State.

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