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In four-team circle of parity, UCLA men’s volleyball finds tough matchups

By Amelie Ionescu

April 11, 2023 6:18 p.m.

This post was updated April 11 at 11:19 p.m.

All top four men’s volleyball teams exist in a vacuum.

In a sport where upsets are often hard to come by, Long Beach State, UCLA, Hawai’i and Penn State have separated themselves from the crowd. Barring a five-set defeat of Penn State by Ohio State, none of the teams have lost to anyone outside the circle of parity.

Penn State loses to Long Beach State

On Jan. 25, the first top-four matchup of the 2023 season took place, with then-No. 3 Long Beach State defeating then-No. 4 Penn State in four sets. The loss was the Nittany Lions’ first of the season and remains as one of their only two.

Despite that loss seeming to cement the Nittany Lions as just a step below the top three, the team wouldn’t let the early-season defeat linger in its mind.

Hawai’i loses to Penn State

In the second game of the Hawai’i-hosted Outrigger Volleyball Tournament, Penn State upset the top-ranked team in the nation and clinched the No. 1 ranking the following Monday with its 3-1 decision over Hawai’i.

The loss was Hawai’i’s first of the season and remains its only dropped match outside of conference play. With the victory, Penn State stood as the only team to beat both the top team in the nation and the second-best team in the nation as a program outside the top two at the time.

UCLA loses to Hawai’i

UCLA picked up its second loss of the season against Hawai’i to cap off the Outrigger Volleyball Tournament. Despite the 3-1 decision, all sets remained close and the top-two matchup drew over 10,000 spectators to fill the Stan Sheriff Center.

With the loss, the blue and gold dropped to No. 3 in the nation with Hawai’i also falling a slot after the loss to Penn State the day before.

Long Beach State loses to UCLA

The most decisive victory of the four, UCLA swept the season series against Long Beach State, posting a 3-0 decision at home on Feb. 9 before becoming the only team to beat the Beach at Walter Pyramid in the 2022-2023 season by a score of 3-1 on Feb. 10.

After the Bruins defeated the Beach, the two traded places in the rankings, with UCLA jumping back up to its preseason prediction of No. 2 and Long Beach State dropping to its current ranking of No. 4.

Other top-four matchups: UCLA and Penn State

UCLA took its first loss of the season in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 4 at the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. The loss dropped the blue and gold to No. 4 in the rankings and bumped Penn State up to a brief stint at No. 3.

Nevertheless, the Bruins avenged the 3-1 decision a month later, posting a five-set defeat of the Nittany Lions and splitting the season series. Penn State would later emerge the victor of the Outrigger Volleyball Challenge, though, and creep up a spot above UCLA in the rankings once more.

Other top-four matchups: Hawai’i and Long Beach State

The only two top-four teams in the same conference, the Beach and the Rainbow Warriors split the season series in Honolulu by way of back-to-back sweeps.

Hawai’i endured its second loss of the season on March 17 in front of a home crowd of over 7,000 people. Nevertheless, the team came back to beat Long Beach State in front of over 9,500 supporters and kept its No. 1 ranking.

As the postseason looms and all four teams contend for a national title, the circle of parity victor will remain to be seen.

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Amelie Ionescu | Sports senior staff
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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