The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team has appeared near-invincible for most of the 2018 season. The 49ers are 18-0 and the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation, having dropped only three sets all season. But Long Beach struggled for a stretch during the second set against UC Santa Barbara on Thursday evening, and head coach Alan Knipe let them, opting not to call a timeout as the Gauchos overcame a five-point deficit and tied it.
“Yeah most coaches don’t want to give up more than two or three points max, but there’s also a feel,” said Knipe. “We want to learn to deal with stress and adversity, they’re in the battle and I trust them.”
As they’ve done in every match so far this season, the 49ers pulled it together and won, sweeping the Gauchos 25-17, 25-19, 25-19.
The team’s 18-0 mark sets a new record for best start in program history, and the 49ers’ dominance continues to grow—they haven’t allowed an opponent in the Pyramid to reach 20 points since No. 2 UCLA did it on Feb. 17.
The 49ers were dominant in every phase against the Gauchos, with TJ DeFalco ripping it from the end line and putting up seven kills, eight digs, and five aces.
“I had a two week period where I was indecisive about my serving,” said DeFalco. “I wanted to get back into the heat serve and bring the pressure.”
The 49ers did that al evening, holding the Gauchos to .189 hitting thanks in large part to aggressive serving. The 49ers hit .390 and had six team blocks, including an 11-kill, five-block effort from Kyle Ensing. Freshman Simon Anderson added four blocks.
Knipe said he was impressed with the way his team grinded it out on defense when the going got tough against UCSB.
“There’s a lot of ways to win a game, people get enamored with us offensively because it can be a joy when we’re firing away on all cylinders,” said Knipe. “But our guys work really hard on every aspect of the game. We stepped up and made plays.”
The win also improves the 49ers to 3-0 in Big West play and hands UCSB their first conference defeat. The two teams will have a rematch Friday evening in Santa Barbara.
“It’s really just halftime in this, we make some adjustments and get after it Friday,” said Knipe.