Postseason Rankings: Top 10 conference tournament finals

Photo courtesy of UC Santa Barbara athletics

It will be another year of waiting before the next college men’s volleyball postseason because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, that doesn’t stop looking back at some of the best postseason matches in recent history.

Check out the top 10 conference tournament finals during the NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball 25-point rally scoring era as ranked by Off the Block.

No. 10 best conference finals

No. 1 seed Ohio State vs. No. 4 seed Lewis
2016 MIVA Tournament

All-American outside attacker Nicolas Szerszen put an end to the Lewis comeback after the Flyers rallied from a two-game deficit to force a fifth game. Szerszen had a game-high five kills in the decisive game as Ohio State beat Lewis 25-18, 25-17, 23-25, 17-25, 15-12 to win the MIVA championship. With the fifth game tied at 11-11, Ohio State went on a 4-1 run that was capped off by a match-winning ace from outside attacker Christian Franeschi. Szerszen finished with a match-high 21 kills on a .313 attack percentage in the victory that helped catapult the Buckeyes toward their second NCAA championship. Despite the loss, Lewis All-American middle attacker Bobby Walsh led all players with six blocks and added eight kills while hitting .583.

No. 9 best conference finals

No. 1 seed Lincoln Memorial vs. No. 2 seed Coker
2018 IVA Tournament

Opposite Evan Cory had both a career-high 26 kills and nine blocks as Lincoln Memorial defeated Coker 25-21, 24-26, 32-30, 23-25, 15-10 to win its first IVA championship. Cory also had an ace and two kills as part of a 5-0 run in the fifth game that helped the second-year program erase a 7-4 deficit. The Railsplitters had a program-record 21 blocks and held the Cobras to a .158 attack percentage, including a match-worst .053 attack percentage int he decisive game. Middle attacker Pedro Carvalho led all players with 10 blocks and had two blocks in the final game. Coker opposite Joao Victor Santos following his 32-kill performance in the semifinals had a team-high 23 kills in the loss.

No. 8 best conference finals

No. 1 seed UC Irvine vs. No. 3 seed Pepperdine
2015 MPSF Tournament

A match-up between two of the best pin-hitters in the conference lived up to the hype with All-American opposite Zack La Cavera and UC Irvine winning the MPSF championship. The MPSF Tournament Most Valuable Player led all players with a career-high 26 kills on a .429 attack percentage as the Anteaters beat the Waves 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 25-23 to win their third MPSF title in program history. All-American outside attacker Josh Taylor in the loss led Pepperdine with 23 kills while hitting .636. UC Irvine using multiple setters throughout the match out-hit Pepperdine .347 to .330, including having a .412 attack percentage and committing two errors in the final game.

No. 7 best conference finals

No. 1 seed Lewis vs. No. 2 seed Loyola
2013 MIVA Tournament

Loyola on the road closed out the decisive fifth game on a 7-1 run to beat its rival Lewis 23-25, 25-23, 10-25, 25-22, 15-7 and win its first MIVA championship in program history. The Ramblers rebounded from a 15-point third-game loss to win the fourth game and then hit a match-best .600 attack percentage in the final game. All-American opposite Joseph Smalzer had a match-high 20 kills, including two kills as part of that 7-1 fifth-game run. Outside attacker Thomas Jaeschke also had 15 kills on a .323 attack percentage and a match-high 14 digs. Lewis in its attempt to win back-to-back MIVA championships out-hit Loyola .345 to .243 and had more than a .500 attack percentage in two of the first three games.

No. 6 best conference finals

No. 1 seed Princeton vs. No. 3 seed Penn State
2019 EIVA Tournament

George Huhmann delivered one of the biggest kills in program history to get Princeton its first EIVA championship in 21 years. The EIVA Player of the Year had the match-winning kill and led players with 25 kills on a .426 kills to lift Princeton past its rival Penn State 28-26, 22-25, 25-18, 20-25, 15-13. Huhman also had a match-high three aces and added six blocks, including a block to give Princeton a 14-12 lead in the decisive game and set up a match-point opportunity. Setter Joe Kelly guided the Tigers to more than a .475 attack percentage in the final two games and out-hit the Nittany Lions for the match .373 to .318. Penn State freshman outside attacker Brett Wildman in the loss had a team-high 24 kills and had eight kills in the fourth game to force the fifth game.

No. 5 best conference finals

No. 2 seed Stanford vs. No. 4 seed UC Irvine
2013 MPSF Tournament

UC Irvine finished with a .405 attack percentage as it rallied from a two-game deficit to beat Stanford 20-25, 25-27, 25-21, 25-21, 15-12 and win the MPSF championship. The Anteaters in the final two games of their comeback victory committed one combined attack error and hit .593. All-American outside attacker Kevin Tillie had both a match-high 24 kills on a .422 attack percentage and 13 digs. All-American opposite Carson Clark contributed 19 kills and had a team-high five kills in the decisive fifth game, including two kills as part of a 5-2 run to close out the match. Along with Tillie and Clark, outside attacker Connor Hughes finished with 19 kills while hitting .515. This was the second consecutive match during the MPSF Tournament that UC Irvine rallied from a two-game deficit en route to winning the NCAA Tournament. Stanford outside attacker Brad Lawson in the loss finished with 23 kills, while outside attacker Steven Irvin added 18 kills.

No. 4 best conference finals

No. 1 seed Ohio State vs. No. 2 seed Lewis
2012 MIVA Tournament

Lewis had a season-high 21.5 blocks to knock off the four-time defending MIVA champions Ohio State 20-255, 25-17, 22-25, 27-25, 15-10 and win the program’s first conference title since coming off of its NCAA sanctions. Middle attacker Matt Gallik finished with a match-high 12 blocks, and setter BJ Boldog added seven blocks, including a game-winning block in a fourth-game overtime to force a fifth game. Outside attacker Jay Petty had five kills in the decisive game with back-to-back kills to close out the match and secure the championship. Petty ended the match leading the Flyers with 25 kills, while middle attacker Aaron Flick contributed 11 kills and zero errors on a .579 attack percentage. Ohio State opposite Shawn Sangery, the 2012 MIVA Player of the Year, in the loss had both a match-high 21 kills on 74 attempts and 14 digs.

No. 3 best conference finals

No. 1 seed Barton vs. No. 2 seed King
2019 ConfCarolinas Tournament

It took five championship-points and a fifth-game overtime for Barton to avenge its loss to King in the 2018 finals and win the 2019 ConfCarolinas championship. Barton overcame blowing a five-point lead in the fifth game and fought off a match-point to beat King 23-25, 25-22, 25-13, 25-27, 17-15. Outside attacker Vasilis Mandilaris had 23 kills on a .333 attack percentage and had two kills in the fifth-game overtime en route to being named the tournament’s most valuable player. Opposite Angelos Mandilaris also finished with a match-high 27 kills to help the Bulldogs win their second ConfCarolinas championship in the last three years. Along with the Mandilaris brothers, freshman outside attacker Adrian Iglesias had two of his match-high five aces during the fifth game. King in the loss out-blocked Barton 18 to 7 with middle attacker Jon Wheaton leading all players with 10 blocks.

No. 2 best conference finals

No. 1 seed Long Beach State vs. No. 2 seed Hawai’i
2019 Big West Tournament

All-American outside attacker Stijn van Tilburg led all players with a season-high 25 kills and zero errors on a .543 attack percentage as Hawai’i defeated Long Beach State 25-15, 25-23, 22-25, 20-25, 15-8. Both Long Beach State and Hawai’i entered the postseason as the top-two nationally ranked teams, and the Rainbow Warriors’ win came a week after being swept in a two-match road series against the Beach. van Tilburg had four kills in the decisive fifth game, including back-to-back kills to open the game and two kills as part of a 6-2 to close out the game. Outside attacker Colton Cowell also contributed 18 kills on a .471 attack percentage and a match-high 12 digs. Despite the loss, All-American opposite Kyle Ensing had a team-high 21 kills while hitting .311, and All-American outside attacker TJ DeFalco had 19 kills on a .405 attack percentage.

No. 1 best conference finals

No. 1 seed USC vs. No. 7 seed UC Santa Barbara
2011 MPSF Tournament

With All-American opposite Jeff Menzel leading the way, UC Santa Barbara completed one of the greatest conference tournament upset runs in college men’s volleyball history to earn a NCAA Tournament berth. Menzel finished with a match-high 28 kills on a .396 attack percentage as UC Santa Barbara upset USC 20-25, 25-23, 21-5, 25-18, 16-14. The tournament’s most valuable player also had six kills in a fifth game that featured both teams hitting at least .600. Menzel was one of three Gauchos with double-digit kills and more than a .300 attack percentage. Setter Vince Devany guided the offense to out-hit the top-ranked Trojans .395 to .315, including the Gauchos having a combined two errors and a .625 attack percentage in the final two games. All-American outside attacker Tony Ciarelli in the loss finished with a team-high 23 kills on a .419 attack percentage, while All-American opposite Murphy Troy added 20 kills. USC entered the postseason as the MPSF regular season champions and the first team in nearly 15 years to be ranked No. 1 throughout the entire regular season. UC Santa Barbara reached the finals after upsetting the No. 2 seed BYU in the quarterfinals and the No. 6 seed Long Beach State in the semifinals. With the upset win against the Trojans, the Gauchos became one of the lowest seeds to win a conference tournament in college men’s volleyball history.