It was a battle between two Goliaths, featuring Long Beach State and Hawai’i in front of a crowd of 3,824. As expected, the Walter Pyramid received another thriller between familiar foes, and the 49ers came out victorious, claiming back-to-back national championships with a 3-1 win.
Fans were eager to celebrate a historical moment with the 49ers. They wanted to storm the court but weren’t allowed. Still, fans rushed the floor and some were tackled by security. Amidst the madness, senior outside hitter TJ DeFalco noticed a few familiar faces make it out of the mob of people.
“Living here, being [in Long Beach] on my own for the majority part of college, and then to see running down the court, my literal entire family, was very special for me,” DeFalco said.
The Long Beach vs. Hawai’i saga was everything it lived up to and more. In a match that could’ve gone either way, with each set finishing so closely together, the tide shifted toward Long Beach on a night where it claimed glory yet again.
“Once it hit those ‘20s’ it’s like, ‘alright now we got to buckle down and execute some good volleyball,’” senior setter Josh Tuaniga said. “Having some composure late in some of these sets was a huge get for us.”
With this victory, the men’s volleyball team became the first program in school history to repeat as NCAA champions, cementing their legacy as one of the greatest to ever set foot inside the Pyramid.
In their fourth meeting, the conference rivals each gave everything they could, responding to every attack either team handed out. After a shaky first set, Long Beach trailed 21-13 at one point, but the 49ers regathered themselves and rallied to cut the lead at 23-22.
Unfortunately for Long Beach, it wasn’t enough. Hawai’i was able to collect themselves to close the set out 25-22. But that rally served as the building block toward the ensuing sets (22-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-23). After looking dominant throughout the first set, Long Beach brought Hawai’i back to life with added service pressure and extraordinary blocking.
“They had their biggest guys getting after it on the service line, they were bringing a lot of pressure,” Hawai’i senior setter Gage Worsley said. “Defensively, that created the most issues for us.”
The Rainbow Warriors were able to keep the majority of the 49ers attacks in play, being in the right place at the right time. After seeing each other so often in such a short span, both teams figured each other out.
But then, senior opposite Kyle Ensing decided to mix it up. In the fourth set, instead of attacking with full force and hitting it as hard as he could, Ensing got crafty and served Hawai’i a couple of offspeed kills, something he rarely, if ever, had done.
“We went into this match thinking we had to bring our physicality to another level and so did [Hawai’i],” Ensing said. “I just thought maybe mix up another shot and it worked.”
Head coach Alan Knipe reiterated the difficult matchup and the culmination of what the showdown between these two teams turned into.
“What an incredible match and what an incredible series,” Knipe said. “It felt like an NBA Finals to me, going back and forth and playing these big physical matches against an incredibly talented and well-coached team.”
Tuaniga orchestrated the offense with a match-high 43 assists, capping off with a set-up to senior libero Jordan Molina, who set it for DeFalco, sealing the match with a kill and a dagger into the Rainbow Warriors’ hearts for the title.
Bryan Aparicio is a fourth year journalism student at Long Beach State. He was originally a business major before transferring to the journalism program because of his love for sports. He currently covers the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team, the reigning national champions and aspires to be a beat writer for a professional team in the future.