The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team’s road match at USC on Saturday night had the feel of a high-drama movie. Unfortunately for Long Beach, that movie didn’t have the ending they wanted. The match was held in USC’s tiny North Gym, which has just 500 fixed seats. With the Trojan band blaring in the tiny facility, Long Beach saw its 23-match win streak come to an end in their first defeat of the season, 25-21, 25-21, 25-17.
It was the team’s first defeat since the regular season finale in 2018, and the first time Long Beach State was swept since their Final Four loss to BYU in 2017. It’s only the fourth time that the team has been swept in the four years that their senior core of Josh Tuaniga, TJ DeFalco, and Kyle Ensing have been wearing black and gold.
Head coach Alan Knipe admitted he was more surprised by the result than angered or dismayed.
“I’m surprised that it took us so long to respond, because we’re good at that,” said Knipe. “It was a struggle to stay consistent in pretty much every area of the game. The biggest one was effort and energy and that’s something we haven’t seen much of a problem with in the last two years. It’s hard to be super mad at it–that’s not my response.”
Long Beach fell behind quickly in each set, and only once led, 1-0 in the second set. The numbers were bad across the board, as the team hit a season-low .215, while USC hit .493. Long Beach struggled in serve receive and passing, but even had the normally sure-handed Tuaniga miss some sets. No hitter for Long Beach had a good night with DeFalco (.100), Ensing (.154), Louis Richard (.154), and Nick Amado (.200) failing to produce the kind of quality they’re accustomed to.
Knipe declined to blame his team’s performance on its setting, but there’s no doubt that the overall weirdness of the evening was at least accentuated by the tiny gym.
“We play most of our matches in the Pyramid, they play most of theirs in the Galen Center,” said Knipe. “There’s a court and a net. I just give a lot of credit to USC, they kept a lot of pressure on us.”
Asked if he expected his team to respond well to the loss, Knipe said, “We don’t have a choice. We will make this a good thing for us.”
Long Beach State (19-1) gave up the No. 1 ranking for the first time this year after the loss, as Big West rival Hawaii moves into the driver’s seat. Long Beach will travel to No. 4 UC Irvine on Friday and then host the Anteaters on Saturday.