LOS ANGELES — The two best volleyball teams in the country squared off for the second time in five days Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion. No. 1 Long Beach State men’s volleyball team edged out No. 2 UCLA in a nail biting four set match.
LBSU (14-0) came into the match just five days after taking down UCLA (14-3) in a similar four set fashion in front of a record-setting crowd at home. The 49ers were able to overcome a second set loss and defeat the Bruins 25-21, 23-25 25-19, 25-21.
Long Beach silenced the crowd early on by easily taking the first set 25-21. The teams would trade five point runs in the second set, forcing both teams to use all of its timeouts before either team reached 20 points. Momentum was on the Bruins’ side, and a late run from senior outside hitter JT Hatch ended the second set to even the match.
In typical Long Beach fashion, the core three juniors stepped in. Outside hitter TJ DeFalco, opposite hitter Kyle Ensing and setter Josh Tuaniga took over and brought Long Beach to victory in the final two sets.
“[Long Beach State] challenges you to figure out where you need to improve,” said UCLA head coach John Speraw.
For the second consecutive game, DeFalco provided a much needed spark and would completely take over the match. He finished with a game-high 23 kills (.500) to go with six digs, three assists and two blocks.
On the opposite side of the court, Ensing would finish just behind him with 19 kills (.400), seven digs, one block and one assist.
“[Ensing] makes my job really easy,” DeFalco said. “It is unbelievable to have such a force on that side, making the other team be worried about both pins.”
Tuaniga continued his consistent play in pacing the 49ers offense to an impressive .408 hitting percentage on the night. He would notch the 49ers only double-double of the match with a season-high 57 assists and 13 digs, while also adding two kills.
Bjarne Huus would fall just a single kill shy of a double-double, finishing the match with nine kills and 11 digs while adding three blocks and two assists.
Long Beach showed grit battling back from multiple deficits in every set of the match.
“I think both teams did a really good job of showing responses tonight,” Long Beach head coach Alan Knipe said. “Responding with execution, responding with emotion, responding with energy and effort. I think both teams were throwing everything they had.”
The top team in the nation has passed its toughest test and will now begin its inaugural conference schedule in the Big West. Long Beach is on the road for a 7 p.m. match against CSUN March 2 at the Matadome.