Defending champs Hawai’i out-lasts Penn State in epic NCAA Tournament semifinal

Photo courtesy of the NCAA

Opposite Dimitrios Mouchlias with Hawai’i leading by two points late in the second game calmly walked to the service line and ripped a serve right at Penn State libero Ryan Merk.

Two months ago Merk, the EIVA Freshman of the Year, had a near perfect passing in a road upset victory against the two-time defending NCAA champions.

This time, though, Merk’s pass went slightly too long resulting in a free ball kill for the Rainbow Warriors to give them a three-point lead and help them eventually secure a two-game lead.

It was that type of night – every little thing in critical points went right for Hawai’i and Mouchilas.

Mouchilas led all players with a season-high 25 kills on a .364 attack percentage as the No. 2 seed Hawai’i defeated Penn State 25-20, 25-23, 16-25, 23-25, 15-10 in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday in Fairfax, Virginia.

This was the third-most kills in a NCAA Tournament match during the 25-point rally scoring era. It also was the third time this season the First-Team All-American had more than 20 kills in a match.

Along with the offensive performance, Mouchilas in the decisive fifth game had an assist on an out-of-system, an ace to give the Rainbow Warriors a five-point lead and served Penn State out-of-system on the match-winning point.


Setter Jakob Thelle, the National Player of the Year, guided the Hawai’i offense out-hit Penn State .298 to .256. In addition, the Rainbow Warriors had zero errors and hit a match-best .667 in the final game.

Outside attacker Chaz Galloway in the victory had 11 kills with the final two coming in the fifth game after not having a kill in the fourth game. Galloway defensively added a match-high 12 digs and was one of two players with double-digit digs in the match.

Penn State outside attacker Brett Wildman had a team-high 15 kills and led all players with seven aces.

This serving performance set the record for the most aces in a NCAA Tournament semifinal match during the 25-point rally scoring era and was one ace shy of tying the record for any NCAA Tournament match in the 25-point rally scoring era.

The Nittany Lions also finished with 12 aces – the second-most aces in a NCAA Tournament match during the 25-point rally scoring era.

Penn State, though, committed 27 service errors. This was the fourth-most errors for the Nittany Lions in a match this season.

Penn State committed four service errors in the fifth game with three coming on the first seven points as the Rainbow Warriors opened a three-point lead. Hawai’i playing its first fifth-game match of the season led by as many as five points and was able to close out the match with a kill from Thelle.

The Nittany Lions in the fourth game erased a five-point deficit and took a 14-11 lead with a 9-1 run that featured two kills from Wildman and an ace from Cal Fisher. Fisher finished with a game-high six kills, including having three kills as part of a 4-1 to end the game and force a fifth game.

Penn State facing elimination took a four-point lead early in the third game with a 7-1 run that included three aces from Wildman. Penn State ended its nine-point win with five aces and limited the Rainbow Warriors to a .071 attack percentage to extend the match to a fourth game.

Hawai’i went on a 4-1 run late in the second game to erase a one-point deficit and take a 20-18 lead. Penn State had opportunities to tie the game but committed two late-game service errors at 23-22 and then at game-point.

Hawai’i trailed by four points in the opening game but rallied back and eventually tied the score at 16-16 with an ace off the net from Kanai Akana. Hawai’i then benefited from five Nittany Lions errors in the next eight plays to cap off a 10-1 run en route to the opening-game win.

Hawai’i with this victory will advance to play the No. 1 seed UCLA in the NCAA Tournament finals on Saturday.

UCLA hit .458 as it swept Long Beach State in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday. The Bruins lost to the Rainbow Warriors in a regular season meeting in March in Honolulu.