Top-ranked Long Beach State showed its grit and determination on Saturday night as the Beach defeated No. 3 UCLA, 3-2 [25-19, 23-25, 20-25, 26-24, 15-12], to capture the 2018 National Championship.
The National Title is now the second in program history as the 2018 squad joins the 1991 team as the only two men’s volleyball programs at Long Beach State to win a National Championship. Head coach Alan Knipe secured his first National Title as a head coach, and second overall as he was a junior on the 1991 squad.
After winning the first set, Long Beach State (28-1) dropped the next two and had its back up against the wall in the fourth set, but the Beach battled back and knocked off UCLA (26-8) on its home court of Pauley Pavilion in front of an electric crowd of 7,248 to force a fifth set. Then, with the match tied at 2 sets a piece, Long Beach State earned a 15-12 victory over the Bruins to capture the National Title.
The Beach had three players named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team led by Most Outstanding Player, Josh Tuaniga. Joining Tuaniga on the All-Tournament Team were juniors TJ DeFalco and Kyle Ensing.
Tuaniga distributed 46 assists and led the Beach to a .325 attack percentage in the contest. Meanwhile, Ensing led the team with his second-straight 20-kill performance, to go along with four blocks, and four aces. DeFalco added 18 kills on .419 hitting, while adding 12 digs for a double-double.
Long Beach State also received solid efforts from senior Bjarne Huus and redshirt junior Nick Amado. Huus contributed six kills and eight digs, while Amado posted six blocks and four kills.
The Beach opened the game with back-to-back kills from Ensing and DeFalco and never looked back. Long Beach State led the entire first set as the Beach hit .478 in the frame. LBSU used a pair of 4-1 runs to open up a 19-12 lead over UCLA, before winning the set, 25-19.
Long Beach State continued its hot hitting into the second set, however, UCLA began to heat up. The two teams battled each other through 12 ties and a pair of lead changes. Eventually, UCLA broke through and put the match away winning 25-23.
With the match even at one set a piece, Long Beach State took a 6-3 lead in the third set, but the lead didn’t last long as UCLA used a 4-0 run to jump ahead 7-6. The Beach and the Bruins traded points through eight ties and five lead changes, but UCLA emerged victorious taking a 2-1 set lead with a 25-20 win over the Beach.
The Bruins took an early lead in the fourth set and just when it looked like things were over for the Beach, Long Beach State pulled out a gritty come-from-behind win. The Beach chipped away at UCLA’s lead and used a 6-1 run capped by a huge kill from DeFalco to take their first lead of the set (19-18). From there, the two teams fought tooth-and-nail and found themselves deadlocked at 24-all. With the set tied and the title on the line, Tuaniga put the set away with a kill followed by an ace to win the set and force a fifth and deciding set.
The fifth set saw UCLA jump out in front 4-2, however Long Beach State would rattle off three straight points to jump out in front 8-7. Following a few UCLA points, Long Beach State broke a 9-9 tie capitalizing on a Bruin attack error. From there, the Beach took a three-point lead (12-9) on three straight UCLA miscues. However, the Bruins would come back and make it a one-point match (12-11) forcing a Long Beach State timeout. The break in action gave the Beach new life as they came out of the timeout and pushed it to match point, 14-11. Following a kill by UCLA’s Jake Arnitz, Amado sealed the deal for the Beach with a kill as the team celebrated and LB Nation rushed the court to celebrate the victory.