Long Beach State

Long Beach State Volleyball Wins Big West Title

It was an historic night in the Pyramid as the top-ranked Long Beach State men’s volleyball team swept UC San Diego to claim the first-ever Big West conference championship. The win improved the 49ers to 23-0, setting a new program record for consecutive wins and giving head coach Alan Knipe his 301st win, just one night after he joined the 300-win club.

Long Beach State is still the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation and is the only undefeated team in the country—every other ranked team has at least five losses.

“It’s a big deal,” said All-American setter Josh Tuaniga about his team claiming the title. “It’s a product of the work we’ve put in—I’m stoked that we were able to come out with this.”

The 49ers still have a pair of road matches next week to close the regular season as they’ll travel to Hawaii for matches on Friday and Saturday. After that, the Pyramid will play host to the first-ever Big West Tournament April 19-21, with the winner nabbing an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Long Beach State will have a bye into Friday’s Big West semifinals, where they’ll play the lowest-remaining seed.

Saturday’s match wasn’t just the championship-clincher, though, it was also Senior Night in the Pyramid. Knipe has been talking all year about the quality of his team’s depth, pointing out that the intensity in practice is as high as it is in many matches.

That depth was on full display against the Tritons—at times Knipe had four seniors on the floor, playing a few players that don’t often see the floor. One of them, Jason Willahan, had three kills on six swings with an assist, a dig, two aces, and two blocks.

“I wanted to give everyone a glimpse of what I see in practice every day,” said Knipe. “The guys who came in were so excited and they did a great job.”

Nine different 49ers had at least three kills including Davis Cannon (five), Willahan (three), and Zach Gates (three). Matt Butler played some rotations at libero and had three digs. Tuaniga kept the offense humming as the 49ers hit .452 on the match despite the shifting roster, holding San Diego to .127.

At one point Long Beach State had four backup players on the court but still led 20-9 in the third set.

“Those guys are the reason we’re able to play at a high level in our gym,” said Knipe. “They want to show everyone that they’re more than capable.”

The 49er stars were excellent as well, as TJ DeFalco had 10 kills on .625 hitting with two aces, two digs, and two blocks, and Kyle Ensing had 10 kills on .571 hitting with three digs and two blocks. Tuaniga’s 34 assists, 11 digs, a block and an ace paved the way for the 49ers’ offense, which is on pace to set a new NCAA single-season record for hitting percentage.

For Willahan and the other 49er seniors, the opportunity to star in a Saturday night regular season finale was incredible.

“It’s awesome being out there,” said Willahan. “Being on the other side of the net from these guys every day in practice is a lot of stress. To be on the other side and get to hand it out feels really good—it’s a relief.”

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.