Saturday night’s Big West championship match between Long Beach State and Hawaii wasn’t just a win for the 49ers. It was a full-throated, chest-beating, screaming statement from Long Beach that they’re still the best team in the nation, despite having lost to the Rainbow Warriors on the island a week ago. Long Beach dominated with a sweep of No. 6 Hawaii 25-23, 25-14, 25-19.
“We’re humbled and honored to be the first-ever champion for the Big West,” said 49ers coach Alan Knipe.
CLICK HERE for a video highlight of the match by JJ Fiddler and CLICK HERE for a photo gallery by Stephen Dachman.
Long Beach State and Hawaii clashed in a pair of five-set thrillers in Honolulu last weekend, with the 49ers winning the first and then losing the second, their only loss of the season. Saturday in the Pyramid in front of a crowd of 2,325, the 49ers dominated every facet of the match, controlling things from the end-line with a second consecutive night of pinpoint-perfect serving.
“They get a little bit of a lead and they steamroll it,” said Hawaii coach Charlie Wade. “They served really tough. Every guy that goes back there is hiya-ing it.”
The 49ers racked up 10 aces, but that’s secondary to the effect the serves had on the Hawaii offense, pulling setter Joe Worlsey off the net and causing havoc. Long Beach State had 11 blocks in the match including seven from middle blocker Nick Amado.
The high-pressure serves created a lot of points—the 49ers scored 75 total points on Saturday, 10 of them were from aces, 11 from blocks, and another nine were from Hawaii hitting errors, nearly all of which can be attributed to the team’s serving.
“The key was we got them out of system,” said Knipe.
“After last week we wanted to be really, really good at serving and passing,” said reigning National Player of the Year TJ DeFalco, who had four aces in the match. “We did a great job of training and training and training.”
The 49er serves came in hot—a speed clock added for the postseason tournament showed DeFalso, Josh Tuaniga and Kyle Ensing routinely topping 65 miles per hour—they were located perfectly. When Hawaii’s serves came back across the net, the 49ers handled them well, directing crisp passes to their setter, Tuaniga.
All Tuaniga did was set the 49ers to a .369 attack while spreading the ball between his top four hitters—DeFalco, Ensing, Bjarne Huus and Simon Anderson all had between 12 and 19 attempts.
“Josh gets on a roll and it becomes super hard to predict what they’re going to do,” said Wade.
No team in America comes close to the 49ers this year after they make a good pass—against Hawaii they hit .552 on balls set by Tuaniga. The junior finished with 32 assists and earned Big West Tournament MVP honors.
“I leaned on my boys a lot,” said Tuaniga. “They freed me up to play the game that I did—that trophy is not just for me it’s for my boys.”
DeFalco finished with eight kills, four aces, four blocks, and three digs while Ensing had eight kills and six blocks and Huus had seven kills and five digs.
The 49ers now advance to the NCAA Tournament at UCLA the first week of may, a tournament they will enter as the top seed and overwhelming favorite. Knipe said he expects Hawaii to get an at-large berth.
Long Beach State is hosting a viewing party at Legends on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. for fans interested in learning their postseason fate. Follow @562sports on Twitter if you can’t make the watch party.