The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team dug deep and came out with an exciting four-set win in the NCAA Final Four over Pepperdine, pulling away emphatically in a 25-21, 21-25, 25-16, 25-15 decision.
Long Beach State (27-2) advances to the NCAA championship match for the second year in a row and will face Hawaii Saturday at 5 p.m. in a meeting of the two top teams in the nation. The two teams have met three times this year, with all three going five sets before historic crowds.
“We’re excited to get the opportunity to play for the national championship here in Long Beach against a really good team in Hawaii,” said Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe.
The match is sold out, but the university will host a watch party on the lawn behind the Pyramid.
Thursday’s match featured some epic moments and performances, including one from an unlikely star. Redshirt sophomore Trevor Briggs had only appeared in two sets all season, but had been serving well in practice the last few weeks. Knipe and his assistants had it in mind to try him as a service sub against Pepperdine, and Briggs delivered. A rocket serve on set point in the third frame resulted in an overpass. Briggs sprinted all the way across the court then went into a slide, making a perfect pass of the overpass and delivering it on the money to setter Josh Tuaniga, who put it up for middle Nick Amado to win the set.
“It’s super exciting as a coach to see a guy who hasn’t gotten a lot of chances come in and perform,” said Knipe. “He was excited and the team was excited for him.”
The superstars all played like superstars, too. TJ DeFalco was special just one night after being named National Player of the Year for the second time. DeFalco had 17 kills on .500 hitting, two aces, five blocks, and five digs.
Pepperdine coach David Hunt was huffy when asked about DeFalco’s dominance.
“We play against a lot of great player so one guy doesn’t really stand out,” he said when asked about DeFalco.
The two-time National POY stood out plenty, of course.
“What I saw tonight is what we’ve been seeing for four years and certainly the last month in some of these massive matches,” said Knipe. “He’s a huge part of a very talented team. When you can score points in every facet of the game you separate yourself and I think that’s why he earned that award last night.”
He was far from the only standout, as Tuaniga set the team to a .461 clip and middles Nick Amado (9 kills on .818 hitting) and Simon Andersen (7 kills on .778 hitting) both had big nights. Ethan Siegfried continues to be outstanding as the second outside hitter, with seven kills, five digs, and a block. Big West Player of the Year Kyle Ensing got off to a slow start but ended up dialing in from the end line with six aces to go along with six kills and a team-high nine digs.
“He didn’t have the instant success that he often does,” said Knipe. “To get himself going, especially from the end line, he was hitting serves 70 miles an hour, that shows the inner competitor.”
With the win, the long hoped-for matchup between the two best teams in the nation is set for Saturday. DeFalco wasn’t buying into the LBSU/Hawaii hype, though.
“I’m just excited to have the opportunity to play one more match,” he said. “I’m excited no matter who it is. I absolutely love playing here with the amount of support we had tonight and on Saturday, it makes it that much sweeter.”
Knipe said he’s excited for Saturday and for his school to get a chance to host its first national championship event since 2007.
“This is a great sports city and an amazing university,” he said. “A lot of these fans get a chance to see this in person for the first time, to come support the local school in our own building. That’s something our volleyball and athletic community deserve and I couldn’t be happier.”