LOS ANGELES — Fans rushed the court as the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team embraced each other, some with tears of joy streaming down their faces.
“It means the world to us,” junior opposite Kyle Ensing said. “Looking back on the last two years and losing in the semi-finals, that was always in the back of our minds.”
Long Beach State won its first national championship since 1991 in a blow-for-blow battle against the Bruins Saturday at the Pauley Pavilion.
“We really pushed ourselves this match and came out on top,” Ensing said. “It means the world to us.”
In what can only be summed up as an instant classic, the match went five sets with the 49ers edging the Bruins 25-19 23-25 20-25 26-24 15-12. The Bruins had taken control of the match in the fourth set, putting the 49ers on their heels. It looked bleak as UCLA’s aggressive serving wore down Long Beach, forcing them to show its resilience.
“It doesn’t surprise me that that’s the battle we had with them,” Long Beach head coach Alan
Knipe said. “That’s a really good team. They were prepared, they played well and created a lot of pressure from the end line.”
Both teams threw punches as if it were a heavyweight bout. Long Beach struck first and took the first set on the back of Ensing’s six kills. Ensing finished the match with a team-high 20 kills, five digs, four blocks and four aces.
The Bruins countered, nearly knocking the 49ers out as they took the next two sets, threatening to take home the trophy with an 18-16 lead in the fourth. With the season on the line, Tuaniga proceeded to ruin the Bruins’ hopes with a dump kill followed by an ace, sending the match to a pivotal “win or go home” fifth set in which the 49ers came out victorious.
7,248 people held their breath as the ball was put into play. Junior setter Josh Tuaniga received the pass and set it just in front of the net, 7,000 audience members stood to their feet and silence filled Pauley Pavilion as senior middle blocker Nick Amado soared through the air. Amado swung, the ball went down and pandemonium ensued.
“There is no way to reproduce that moment,” Knipe said. “I think our crew does a great job in the gym of giving us as much pressure as they can, but there is no way to reproduce those moments.”
Tuaniga ended the match with 46 assists, five digs, three kills, an ace and a block, taking home the Most Outstanding Player award.
Long Beach ends its season completing what has not been done in 27 years, back when coach Knipe raised the same trophy as a middle blocker for Long Beach. The team ends the season with a 28-1 record and more importantly, as champions.