Defalco, Tuaniga
Long Beach State Volleyball

COLUMN: DeFalco, Tuaniga Master Plan Worked Out

Becoming a sportswriter a dozen years ago has had several unexpected consequences in my life. I involuntarily take stats in my head even when I’m watching a game on television for fun. I’m an expert on the national anthem, which I’ve heard performed (conservatively) 500 times. And I have spent more hours than I can count listening to parents’ grand predictions for their children.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it. I have two kids, and it’s fun to daydream about not paying for college because of a coveted scholarship. In the grand scheme of things, hearing hopeful plans from eager parents is pretty low on the list of professional hazards. But I do always take those plans with a grain of salt, for the obvious reason: they almost never pan out.

Even for the diamond in the rough that makes the NFL, parents never dream about a fourth-round draft selection. Nobody sends a sportswriter an email to say that one day their son or daughter will make the Olympics, but finish seventh in their race.

Two dads who absolutely nailed it, however, were Torey DeFalco and Eperu “Junior” Tuaniga. The two volleyball dads were watching their 10 year-old kids play beach volleyball at a sand court in Temecula and noticed that they had complementary styled. TJ DeFalco was a 5’4” righty and Josh Tuaniga a 5’4” lefty, and both had a high competitive drive. The dads put them together as a beach duo and, as their partnership piled up awards, had some “what if” dreams.

What has resulted over the last dozen years is one of the most prolific partnerships in amateur sports history. The duo were elite beach and club players, but in the six years they played together on scholastic indoor teams, they’ve rewritten the record books.

In the two years they were together at Huntington Beach High, the Oilers went 80-0 and won two CIF-SS, State, and national championships. DeFalco was the CIF Player of the Year their junior year, Tuaniga was Player of the Year their senior year. They lost a total of 12 sets in those 80 matches, creating a buzz rarely seen in high school volleyball, selling out Cerritos College for their CIF-SS and State championship games.

At Long Beach State they led the Beach to a 108-15 record over four years, with four Final Four appearances (the school had seven in the four decades prior). The last two seasons saw Long Beach State win a pair of national titles while going 56-3. DeFalco was National Player of the Year in 2017 and 2019, and Tuaniga was in 2018, making it the first time ever an NCAA school had three consecutive National POY winners.

Of their six years playing at the same school, the duo’s teams went 188-15, won four national championships, and saw five Player of the Year awards of one kind or another awarded to one of them.

The lifelong friends are happy their fathers’ grand plans came to fruition, but they weren’t focused on it along the way.

“They had the master plan, we were just kids playing volleyball,” said DeFalco.

Now it looks like Long Beach’s golden duo will be benefiting the entire country. Both will be off to train and play with USA Volleyball this Summer along side LBSU teammate Kyle Ensing, with the very realistic goal of several Olympics in front of them. Even in their wildest dreams, it’s hard to imagine Torey and Junior drawing that one up.

Photo by Mike Guardabascio


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.