Long Beach State To Clash With UCLA For National Title
2018 Men's Volleyball Release No. 18 - National Championship Match
Making the program's seventh appearance in the national championship match, No. 1 ranked Long Beach State attempts to capture its second men's volleyball title as the Beach take on UCLA Saturday at 4:00 p.m. inside Pauley Pavilion.
Pressure-Packed Semifinal A Boon For The Beach
No one said winning a national championship would ever be easy. Even for a team that is 27-1 on the year, Long Beach State knew the test that was coming from two-time defending champion Ohio State in Thursday's national semifinals would be monumental. The Beach won the first two sets in tight fashion, then dropped the third in a 27-25 heartbreaker.
More theatrics came in the decisive fourth set. The Beach steeled themselves in the midst of 20 ties and seven lead changes against a game Buckeyes squad. LBSU had six match points, only to see Ohio State level the score each time, and even had its own match point opportunity when a kill by Maxime Hervoir made it 29-28 Buckeyes. But LBSU scored four of the last five points, capped off by a dump shot by the setter and AVCA National Player of the Year Josh Tuaniga to give his team the 32-30 victory and a trip to the national finals.
How big was it for Long Beach State to pass a pressure-packed test such as that one?
"I think it's huge," said LBSU head coach Alan Knipe. "I think every opportunity that you can get to have some moments of reference in these bigger moments. We’ve had plenty of big moments this year, and obviously a real big one right there against Ohio State where we have the game on the line a couple of times, and to be able to continue to execute. You can’t match that kind of adversity, that kind of stress that it can put on you and to be able to execute through it, builds some confidence."
Living And Learning
The previous two trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and 2017 ended in disappointment for Long Beach State. The junior trio of TJ
DeFalco, Kyle Ensing and Josh Tuaniga endured semifinal losses to BYU as freshmen and sophomores. But those setbacks built character and resolve, and developed them into leaders, so it was no surprise to Knipe that his team executed down the stretch this time around on another national semifinal stage.
"You can’t eliminate emotion from competition. It’s going to be there," emphasized Knipe. "You can use it in the form of determination, which will put you in preparation for the next play. Or you can use it in the form of frustration, that can leave you in the last play. And I think the maturity that these guys have made to be able to weather the storm through these big moments and stay determined with all that emotion, of how they can use it as a positive tool, is a pleasure to watch their development, and I thought they displayed it nicely tonight."
Ensing had a season-high 20 kills and DeFalco added 16 for a combined 36 of the team's 55 kills. Both had 10 digs apiece for their third and fifth double-doubles of the season, respectively.
Perhaps the most fitting example of persevering through determination came with the Beach up 30-29 in the fourth set and at match point. Tuaniga watched as an attempt by Ohio State's Nicolas Szerszen fell to the floor, tantalizingly close to being out, but ultimately in by inches.
Instead of letting that play affect Tuaniga or anyone else on the team, Ensing ripped a kill for a 31-30 lead and Tuaniga followed with a crafty dump shot that bounced to the floor just before a Buckeye could get to it. DeFalco had the assist on both putaways.
The last two seasons served as a buildup to those moments.
Aces? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Aces!
In LBSU's two Big West Tournament wins against CSUN and Hawai‘i, the team set a season high with 10 aces in each match. In the NCAA Semifinal victory against Ohio State, the Beach had three aces – tying for the second-lowest total in a match all year.
But don't be fooled by the number. LBSU still served well enough to keep Ohio State out of system for important stretches, and relied on other aspects of its overall game to produce points. The team prides itself on being well-rounded.
"It doesn't have to be an ace," Knipe explained after the match. "We feel like we spend so much time on our block and defense, and our transition offense, that yeah, we want aces. But aces are going to come with tough serving over a long period of time with having repeatable heat.
"But the byproduct of that also is going to be a lot of opportunities to score when they are out of system, which we had 42 digs and more blocks, and we killed our ball at a high number in transition. So however we get the points, you can in a lot of different ways."
One Less Distraction
Long Beach State was 23-0 entering the final week of the Big West schedule, and what awaited the team in Honolulu was a Hawai‘i squad bent on locking up a top two seed in the conference tournament and a bye to the semifinals. UH would need to beat LBSU at least once during the two-match series played on back-to-back nights. In front of a boisterous Stan Sheriff Center crowd, LBSU won the first matchup in five sets to move to 24-0.
However, the 'Bows returned the favor in the rematch, winning a five-setter of its own, and ending LBSU's school record 24-match winning streak.
The benefit to that happening?
LBSU doesn't have to deal with any questions about trying to finish the season undefeated.
"The nice thing about it is no one is talking about it. We didn’t talk about it ever," said Knipe. "The only thing we addressed is when people brought it up to us, and it really was never part of the plan. The two games in Hawai‘i – even though we won one and lost one – I think was good for us. I think those matches were huge and very valuable."
Beach To Battle UCLA For National Title
Long Beach State, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship, will take on host UCLA in the national championship match on Saturday inside Pauley Pavilion at 4 p.m. The match will be aired on ESPN2.
• This is Beach’s seventh all-time appearance in the national finals – and first since 2004. The program is 1-5 in national championship contests, with the win coming in 1991 against USC in four sets. That represents LBSU’s lone national title.
• LBSU head coach Alan Knipe was a starting middle blocker on the 1991 national championship squad.
• LBSU has reached the Final Four for the third straight year and 10th time overall in program history. LBSU is 9-8 all-time in NCAA Tournament matches.
• LBSU and UCLA have met just once before in the NCAA Tournament. In 1970, the Bruins won in three sets at Pauley Pavilion in what was LBSU’s first trip to the finals.
• Long Beach State is becoming the first Big West program since UC Santa Barbara men’s soccer in 2006 to win a team national championship. As a whole, the Big West has won 17 national team titles across seven different sports.
How They Got Here: Long Beach State
Long Beach State won the inaugural Big West Tournament on its own home court, extending the Walter Pyramid winning streak to 29 straight with dominant victories over CSUN and Hawai‘i. In doing so, the Beach earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The top-seeded Beach won their 18th and 19th contests by sweep in knocking off the fourth-seeded Matadors and second-seeded ‘Bows. The 19 wins by sweep is just one shy of the school’s single season record.
LBSU has maintained the nation’s No. 1 ranking for 14 straight weeks in the AVCA Division I-II poll. The Beach began the year with a program record 24-match winning streak, and have suffered just one loss this season, a five-set contest in Honolulu against Hawai‘i.
Congratulations Are In Store
Long Beach State claimed three of the top national awards announced by the American Volleyball Coaches Association this week.
Junior setter Josh Tuaniga was selected the 2018 TeamSnap/AVCA Division I-II Men’s Player of the Year, the fifth Beach recipient behind Brent Hilliard (1992), Paul Lotman (2008), Taylor Crabb (2013) and current teammate TJ DeFalco (2017). Tuaniga and DeFalco made LBSU the first school to win back-to-back POY honors since USC in 2011 and 2012.
In addition, Alan Knipe received USMC/AVCA Division I-II National Coach of the Year recognition, while Associate Head Coach Nick MacRae secured AVCA Division I-II Men’s National Assistant Coach of the Year laurels. The two helped lead LBSU to the inaugural Big West regular season and tournament titles.
Sixteen Big West Players Named AVCA All-Americans
➜ The Big West had 16 players named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division I-II All-America Teams on Monday. Long Beach State led all programs in this year’s class with four All-American representatives.
➜ Five players were named to the AVCA All-America First Team, including the Long Beach State junior trio of outside hitter TJ De Falco, opposite Kyle Ensing and setter Josh Tuaniga. Hawai‘i duo Stijn van Tilburg and Larry Tuileta also earned first team acclaim. DeFalco is a three-time first team All-American. Tuaniga and van Tilburg were honored as first teamers for the second straight year.
➜ A total of five players captured AVCA All-America Second Team honors, including LBSU junior Nick Amado and UC Irvine teammates opposite Karl Apfelbach and middle blocker Scott Stadick. CSUN senior Arvis Greene and Hawai‘i junior Joe Worsley also received second team recognition.
➜ Earning honorable mention AVCA All-American status were six Big West players – LBSU freshman Simon Anderson, UCI senior Aaron Koubi and freshman Joel Schneidmiller, UC San Diego senior Tanner Syftestad and Hawai‘i sophomores Patrick Gasman and Rado Parapunov.