The University of Hawaii men's volleyball team rode the arm of Stijn van Tilburg and the spark of Austin Matautia to a thrilling five-set comeback win against #5 Penn State Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.
Van Tilburg, who was named AVCA first-team All-America on Monday, recorded a match-high 20 kills leading the Rainbow Warriors rally from down two sets to one. Over the final two sets UH outscored PSU 40-18, earning a spot in the national semifinal Thursday against defending NCAA champion and current #1 Ohio State.
"We've been a pretty veteran team with Jennings [Franciskovic], Kupono [Fey] and Hendrik [Mol} on the floor for us, guys that really mean a lot to the program and have been around a long time," said head coach Charlie Wade. "I look out there and all of a sudden there are a couple of freshman, three or four sophomores, and they did a great job. I couldn't be more proud of the performance they put in and coming out with a win."
It was the young guns that stepped up to the plate for UH, assuring that the senior class wouldn't suffer a similar outcome to 2015 when Penn State eliminated them in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I love Kupono, I love Hendrik and I love everyone on the court," said van Tilburg. "I looked at Kupono on the side and he was like, 'I just want to play one more time.' He's such a great player, and I wanted to play for them."
Momentum shifted early in the fourth set with the 'Bows presence at the net. UH had six blocks as a team in the frame and grew a 9-7 lead into a 25-14 set win.
The Nittany Lions were never able to regain their composure, beginning the fifth set with three straight errors and climbing into a 6-1 hole. The Rainbow Warriors scored the match's final eight points, and fittingly on a night where they finished with a season-high 17.5 blocks as team, the 'Bows closed it out with a block from Brett Rosenmeier and Patrick Gasman.
"We do a really good job of complimenting each other and that's been our story all year," said senior setter Jennings Franciskovic. "That's a huge reason why we're still playing right now. It doesn't matter who's in there, everybody has bought in and ready to compete no matter what."
With AVCA honorable mention middle blocker Hendrik Mol sidelined with an ankle injury, Penn State attacked the middle early and often. Sophomore Dalton Solbrig replaced Mol recording two kills and five blocks.
The Rainbow Warriors were the own worst enemy committing five service errors and three hitting errors in the opening set. Van Tilburg carried UH offensively recording six kills, but Penn State scored five of the last seven points to take the set 25-23.
"We made too many errors," said Wade. "Uncharacteristic of our regular plan, but really proud of the guys for settling down."
The script was flipped in the second set when errors plagued the Nittany Lions. UH raced out to a 5-1 lead and then 12-7 thanks to six PSU miscues. Penn State went on a 12-4 run from there which forced Charlie Wade to go to his bench, subbing senior Kupono Fey out for the freshman Matautia. The 'Bows fought off two set points and came up with two big blocks from Brett Rosenmeier and Solbrig to close on an 8-2 run and win the set 27-25.
Wade stuck with Matautia in the third set and the former Moanalua High standout was efficient at the service line and attacking, racking up five kills in the set and seven for the match with no errors.
"The coaches told me when I go in to bring the fire," said Matautia. "In the beginning I didn't think I did that well, but I think as the game went on the energy picked up a lot."
However, Penn State's offense found its groove late in the third set, running away with it 25-17.
That was the end of the Nittany Lions magic as the 'Bows fought back for their program record-tying 27th win of the season, matching mark set by the 1996 team. Hawaii returns to the NCAA semifinal for the first time since 2002. Thursday's match against Ohio State begins at 2 pm HST and will be streamed on NCAA.com.
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