Last week’s home opener for the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team was about how far the program has come, and how much farther it still wants to go.
There was a look back. Before the team took the floor for their match against USC, a short highlight video from last year’s NCAA championship campaign was played on the Walter Pyramid’s videoboard, and then the 2018 NCAA banner was unveiled in the rafters. Almost 3,000 fans roared in appreciation, and then the match began. Long Beach State lost its first set of the season but still improved to 7-0 on the year with a 25-17, 26-24, 19-25, 25-17 win.
“Seeing everyone there, kind of excited about it, it reminded us of last year’s work,” said setter Josh Tuaniga. “We did a pretty good job of shaking that off and starting that first set.”
Tuaniga actually turned his back on the videoboard during the 2018 highlights, putting his head down and waiting for the match to start. He was solid all night, as the 49ers hit .515 on balls set by Tuaniga. The Trojans were game in the second and third sets, pushing Long Beach State late in the second before the home team rallied and won the set, and winning the third.
Head coach Alan Knipe dismissed the idea that losing a set would take pressure off of his team, which had gone six matches without doing so, including a road match at UCLA.
“This team wants to win every point and every set, I don’t think it matters that we hadn’t lost a set and I certainly don’t think it took some sort of stress off of them to lose one,” he said. “We’re greedy about points, about sets, about matches, we want to win as many as we can.”
There’s no doubt that the team responded in a big way in the fourth, blowing USC out in a runaway win that saw them up 20-10. Tuaniga and Kyle Ensing both had career highs in services aces, leading a team effort that saw 13 aces. Tuaniga opened the fourth set with back-to-back-to-back aces, forcing two timeouts from USC.
“There’s no doubt service pressure was a big part of this game on both sides,” said Knipe. “Our numbers were great. Kyle was hitting well over 70 miles per hour and causing all kinds of chaos.”
The team agreed that the crowd was a big part of their response and play in the match.
“The crowd really got us into that game,” said Ensing. “Coming back in the fourth and pushing ourselves to reset.”
DeFalco had 12 kills, six assists, two aces, four digs, and three blocks; Tuaniga had 35 assists, five kills, seven digs, five aces, and two blocks; and Ensing had 11 kills, six aces, two digs, and two blocks. Poly alum Sam Lewis had a great match for USC with seven kills on .500 hitting, four blocks, and two aces.
Long Beach State is on the road in Missouri for a trio of matches this week, then will return to the Pyramid to host Ohio State and Penn State next Friday and Saturday.