On the court, Long Beach State senior Kyle Ensing can do anything. The 6’7” opposite hitter can serve, block, pass, and attack as well as anybody, a skill set so complete he’s already a two-time All-American who’s been recognized as the best player in the country at his position. Off the court? There are a few things Ensing would prefer not to do.
A common occurrence this year is Ensing posting another eye-popping stat line: 27 kills against UC Santa Barbara, or six aces against USC, or eight blocks against CSUN. Then, as the team is relaxing in the locker room enjoying the win, assistant coach Scott Touzinsky will come in and tell the team who needs to head up to the postgame press conference.
“You can ask any of the guys in there,” said Ensing. “Whenever Scott comes in and says, ‘Okay it’s Josh and Kyle,’ I’m like ‘Ohhhh, man.’”
The superstar athlete describes himself as “super shy,” but also admits it’s a little more complicated than that. He’s not bad at talking and he’s not afraid of social situations. It’s really only attention on him as an individual that he doesn’t enjoy–the kind that comes from being asked to sit in a press conference and talk about how well he played.
“Usually guys who have had the success that he has are used to that attention, and it might serve to motivate them,” said Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe. “It genuinely doesn’t motivate Kyle, in the slightest. It’s a really special trait to be that good and not care at all about individual accolades–it really is authentic. He’s a great communicator, he just deep down doesn’t want anything to do with bringing the spotlight onto him.”
Knipe’s use of the word ‘authentic’ is telling. There are plenty of athletes who project an image of not caring about awards or media attention, and far fewer who genuinely aren’t interested in external recognition. Ensing is the latter, walking proof that elite talent doesn’t have to be paired with a showy personality.
When he arrived at Long Beach State as a freshman, he came with TJ DeFalco and Josh Tuaniga, one third of a trio that has had unprecedented success. DeFalco and Tuaniga were both lifelong volleyballers who had huge expectations on their shoulders from a young age. Ensing, on the other hand, didn’t fully commit himself to the sport until his junior year of high school, after a life dreaming of success on the court as a basketball player.
While Ensing’s talent was apparent–he was the top-ranked opposite hitter in his class coming out of high school–he didn’t carry that image of himself in his own mind.
“I came in my freshman year thinking I probably wouldn’t start,” said Ensing. “I was just like, ‘I’m fighting for it, I don’t know, man.’”
Ensing would, of course, start that year, and excel over his first three seasons. Last summer, after winning the NCAA championship, Ensing ended up on the US Men’s National Team, starting in FIVB Volleyball Nations League matches against China and Brazil, playing alongside and against the best players in the world. He not only stood on that court, but excelled on it.
“Since I started playing it’s been a race to see how good I can become,” said Ensing. “Suddenly I’m called into practice with Matt Anderson and these guys. It’s humbling because as a freshman I’m thinking I might not play to being on the court with the best in the world. It opened up my perspective on what I can do in my career after college with the national team and professionally.”
That future is rapidly approaching, and the limelight Ensing prefers to avoid will get brighter. For now, he’s got another four weeks playing with his Long Beach State teammates, in a role he’s comfortable with. If Ensing were at most other schools, his numbers would make him the top dog, the player who was called into every press conference. In the Pyramid, he’s happy letting DeFalco or Tuaniga take a good chunk of that burden.
“Whether you like the way roles happen on teams or not, they exist,” said Knipe. “TJ and Josh are comfortable in their role and Kyle is comfortable, too. He’s equally as talented in his position as they are in theirs but he doesn’t need to give a third speech. He can say, ‘I’ll be a leader with my attitude and my effort. I can be a great player on a great team and I don’t need anything more than that.’”
More than that is coming, of course. This weekend Long Beach State will host Hawaii on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. in a clash of the two top teams in the nation, an event expected to push the capacity of the Pyramid. More All-American honors are in store for Ensing, and maybe another national championship as well. As for National Player of the Year or maybe even a few more press conferences? It’s not something he’s worried about.
“It’s my last month here, and getting to play with some of my best friends is amazing,” said Ensing. “That’s what I’m excited about. I just want to see what we can accomplish together in these last few weeks.”