COSTA MESA -- It seemed even after the opening weekend of the 2016 season that the Orange Coast College and Long Beach City College men's volleyball teams were going to meet up again in the playoffs.
Those predictions will become reality on Saturday as the Pirates (21-2) and Vikings (20-2) meet up for the California Community College Athletic Association Men's Volleyball State Championship at L.A. Pierce College, beginning at 7 p.m.
"Long Beach is a very good team and they're a team we know well," OCC head coach Travis Turner said. "I know it sounds cliche, but it's going to come down to serving, passing and defense. Both teams are very physical and can do many things, so the little things will make all of the difference."
This is the third meeting between the two schools this year. Coast opened the season with a hard-fought five-set win at LBCC before the Vikings returned the favor and beat the Pirates in four sets at OCC on Feb. 20. In fact, OCC's win over LBCC was the last blemish on the Vikings' season as they enter the state finals winners of 20 straight matches and champions of the Western State Conference.
One factor in those two matches was the participation of LBCC sophomore outside hitter Joshua Nehls, who didn't play in the loss to the Pirates on Jan. 31, but was a big factor in the Vikings' win over Coast on Feb. 20 with 13 kills and seven digs. Nehls heads into tonight's state finals with 222 kills, 92 digs and 21 total blocks.
However, the leader of the Vikings' offense is freshman Andrew Pearson with 249 kills, while sophomore slugger Charles Belvin is third with 112 kills. "All three are very athletic and all three can hurt you," Turner said.
LBCC middle blockers Cesar Renteria (93 kills, 71 total blocks) and Elai Mama (90 kills, 65 blocks) bring even more weapons to the LBCC lineup.
For the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference champion Pirates, winners of 12 straight, they are one of the few teams in the state that can match the Vikings weapon for weapon. On the outside, sluggers Adrian Faitalia (240 kills, 163 digs, 40 blocks) and Gianluca Grasso (221 kills, 135 digs, 39 blocks) have been a dominating combination for Turner's Pirates all season long.
The middle blocker trio of Matthew Ujkic (105 kills, 55 blocks), Will Donald (76 kills, 64 blocks) and Austin Marriott (59 kills, 26 blocks) will give the Vikings reason to pause on their blocking assignments, while on the right side, freshman opposite Wyatt Henson (90 kills, 36 digs, 46 blocks) stepped up big for OCC in Thursday's semifinal win over Santa Monica, tying Grasso and Faitalia with a match-high 11 kills.
"We both have the weapons to get the job done," Turner said. "That's why it'll come down to who can do the little things right. We had to grind out a win on Thursday against Santa Monica, but against Long Beach, we're going to have to play our best match of the season and I think the guys are up for it. It will be an outstanding championship matchup."