TJ DeFalco, Kyle Ensing
Long Beach State Volleyball

COLUMN: Hop On The Long Beach State Volleyball Bandwagon

It’s pulling away from the curb, but there’s still plenty of room on the Long Beach State men’s volleyball bandwagon.

I had a friend tell me she enjoyed my coverage of the team last year and wanted to come out to some matches this year, but was worried about being a bandwagoner, a fair-weather fan who’s only coming out to matches when the team is really good.

I hereby give all of Long Beach sports fandom the same permission I gave my friend: it’s perfectly fine to jump on this bandwagon. The fact is I’m going into the season knowing that if I cover Long Beach sports for another 40 years, I might not ever see a team this talented or this hyped again.

Consider that the team tied a school record for fewest losses last year with a 28-1 record, and that they had 20 sweeps. Consider that they set a national record for hitting percentage, and that this year’s team will be the first ever with two National Players of the Year on the court. Consider as well that three players on the team, four-year starters all, have won awards naming them the best in the nation at their position.

I can tell you I’ve spent a fair amount of time learning the history of Long Beach State’s sports, and if there was ever a team to come out and see, it’s this one. LBSU head coach Alan Knipe isn’t exactly an objective observer on the subject, but as a former USA Olympic coach, he does have an expert’s view of things.

“There is still so much excitement about last year’s national championship match, how good it was and how high the level of play was,” Knipe said of his team’s five-set thriller over UCLA before 7,000+ fans at Pauley Pavilion. “A number of people have spoken to me about it — at the American Volleyball Coaches Association banquet last month, the chairman spoke about it on stage. The volleyball is at such a high level that the teams in last year’s national championship could win matches in international play. You could take these teams to the world championships and go .500.”

The world championships are usually held in Europe or Asia, or somewhere it would cost you a few thousand dollars to travel to. Or, for one more season only, you can catch a team of this caliber in the Walter Pyramid right here in Long Beach. Even if you don’t know anything about volleyball, even if you aren’t a diehard Long Beach State fan — even if you don’t like LBSU at all. If you love Long Beach and you love sports, this is the team to check out, even if you can only get to one match.

In addition to being the best in the country and one of the best ever (UCLA coach John Speraw said he thought they were the best in history), the team is also locally built. One of their two National Players of the Year, setter Josh Tuaniga, grew up just two miles from campus in East Long Beach, and attended Stanford Middle School. Libero Jordan Molina is from nearby Carson and played two years at LBCC. The other National POY, TJ DeFalco, played his high school ball at Huntington Beach High.

So seize the moment. Buy a brand-new hat, even if you’re inclined to rough it up and pretend you’ve had it for 20 years. The bandwagon has space, and the show is second to none. Just make sure you hop on before the national championship, which will be hosted in the Pyramid on May 4. There’s not likely to be much room left by that point.

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.