The No. 1 Long Beach State men’s volleyball team remained undefeated after beating No. 2 UCLA in an electric four-set match Saturday at the Walter Pyramid.
The match took place in front of a men’s volleyball record-setting crowd of 4,560 people, nearly doubling the previous record of 2,828.
“I think it goes without saying that was a tremendous crowd tonight,” Long Beach head coach Alan Knipe said. “It goes to credit the volleyball that these two teams are playing, but more importantly to the community for coming out.”
LBSU (13-0) would see its consecutive sets streak snapped in the first set at 29, only to come back and dominate the next three frames and finish the match 23-25, 25-15, 25-19, 25-21.
Long Beach was led by its core three juniors; outside hitter TJ DeFalco, opposite hitter Kyle Ensing, and setter Josh Tuaniga.
DeFalco turned in a breakout performance, notching a double-double with 17 kills (.419) and 12 digs to go with five blocks. DeFalco would lead all competitors in all three categories and claim sole possession of 18th place on the Long Beach all-time kill list.
Ensing finished the night with 16 kills, nine digs and two blocks.
Tuaniga would prove to be pivotal in leading the offense to a .343 hitting percentage by adding 39 assists, eight digs and a block. He also recorded a 7-0 run while serving in the final set to bring the 49ers back from a 18-15 deficit.
The Bruins (14-2) struck first and won the first set, which saw 12 ties and four lead changes. That is as good as it would get, as the Bruins would seem scattered offensively the rest of the match.
“They’re a great volleyball team and they started putting some pressure on us and making plays,” said UCLA head coach John Speraw. “We struggled to figure out ways to respond.”
After dumping the first set, Long Beach would make a complete turnaround, answering with a resounding second set win. DeFalco took over, recording five kills, four digs and three blocks.
“It was a big focus of mine to get the energy back in the team and get the cylinders rolling again,” DeFalco said.
The Bruins were neutralized at the net, hitting an abysmal .191 in the match after entering the game hitting at least .400 for six straight matches.
“TJ [DeFalco] started digging every ball in his area code, and defense wins a lot of volleyball games,” Knipe said.
Long Beach would also become the first team all season to out block UCLA, edging them by two-and-a-half blocks.
The matchup was the first time the 49ers had faced an above .500 team since Jan. 13 in a game against Loyola who was 2-1 at the time.
“I think regardless if you talk to either head coach they will tell you these are important matches right now,” Knipe said. “You need to go through these matches, you need to go through this adversity.”
The atmosphere nearly took the roof off of the Walter Pyramid as the record-setting crowd completely took over the venue.
“I congratulated Alan [Knipe] at the end, I think it’s great for volleyball that we can attract fans like this and fill stadiums,” Speraw said.
The nations’ top two teams will get another chance to face off at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion.