In one of the most anticipated seasons for any team in Long Beach State history, the school’s men’s volleyball team will attempt to defend its NCAA championship this spring. The Walter Pyramid will play host to the Final Four from May 2-4, and the team is hoping it will be a celebration of a golden era, produced by the greatest recruiting class of any team in LBSU history.
The trio of TJ DeFalco, Josh Tuaniga, and Kyle Ensing were heralded as the top recruiting class in the nation when they signed, and have already proven themselves the best class the school has ever had–in any sport. DeFalco and Tuaniga have already been named National Players of the Year, and DeFalco and Ensing both spent the summer as starters for the US Men’s National Team, the only two collegiate players to make the squad.
The trio have helped guide their team to three Final Fours (of the seven in program history) and last year’s NCAA title. A win this year would make school history, as no LBSU program has ever won back-to-back NCAA crowns.
“This group’s had a wonderful start to their career, they’re what you hoped they’d be coming in,” said Long Beach State head coach Alan Knipe. “The nice thing is they’re super excited about this season. Some of them had options to play professionally, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that they’d come back for their senior year.”
Thankfully for volleyball fans everywhere, they did, and they’ll form the center of the most hyped NCAA men’s volleyball program probably ever. The defending national champs are fresh off a 28-1 season, having been just the fifth one-loss national champion since 1985. The team returns five All-Americans and will be the first team ever with two National Players of the Year on the floor. DeFalco, in particular, had the chance to depart for a lucrative pro contract overseas, but wanted to finish his career with his teammates.
“There’s a lot of guys who’d say if I’m eyeing the Tokyo Olympics, why am I in the Gold Mine at 4 p.m. on Wednesday with Alan again in the Fall listening to him talk to freshmen?” joked Knipe. “That core group has a commitment. I’m excited for our school and our community to get to see them again.”
In addition to DeFalco (the nation’s best outside hitter), Tuaniga (the nation’s best setter), and Ensing (the nation’s best opposite hitter), the squad also returns All-American middle blockers Nick Amado and Simon Anderson, as well as starting libero Jordan Molina, an LBCC alum. The only new starter will be the second outside hitter, likely to be a rotation between Louis Richard and Ethan Siegfried.
Tuaniga said that while he, DeFalco, and Ensing have been around the block before, the fact that they’re seniors makes things different.
“There had always been guys like Matt Butler, really strong senior leaders, and it’s different now because we’re leading the charge,” he said. Tuaniga acknowledged that there’s a certain monotony to going through four cycles of NCAA volleyball at a very high level.
“Yes, yes, being honest,” he said. “But I just think it takes a different animal at this level. If you really want to be great and have success it takes a different kind of person, and we all feel that way. Every opportunity we have we want to take hold of it.”
With huge rivalry matches ahead between LBSU and UCLA, a historically talent-rich team, and a Final Four date with destiny in the Pyramid ahead, there are plenty of opportunities ahead for 2019: Long Beach State’s not planning on letting any of them pass by.