The ball would go back and forth over the net multiple times before creating a two-on-one matchup at the net, UC San Diego’s Nathan Thalken against Long Beach State junior outside hitter Kyle Ensing and senior middle blocker Jason Willahan. The three players would clash at the net with Ensing and Willahan blocking the ball for a Long Beach point, bringing the 1,411 fans to their feet. It was a special moment for Willahan, who turned to his teammates with arms wide open to celebrate the point.
Willahan and four of his teammates celebrated senior night Saturday at the Walter Pyramid with a three set sweep over San Diego 25-21,25,18,25-13. The 49ers said goodbye to opposite hitter Davis Cannon, libero Matt Butler, outside hitter Bjarne Huus, and middle blockers Zach Gates and Willahan.
“It’s been an honor to play for this program and for this logo and for the coaching staff,” Willahan said. “It’s been all positive, I have nothing negative to say.”
Long Beach (23-0, 8-0 Big West) would go on to earn the victory, and marked a 23-0 start, which is the longest ever in program history and the first ever Big West men’s volleyball regular season champions in the inaugural season of the sport.
San Diego (9-16, 0-8 Big West) entered the match on a six-game losing streak, struggling to find any rhythm over the past month. Things would not change Saturday night as the team would be completely out-matched by Long Beach.
“They’re very consistent, they are very good from the service line and bring a lot of pace,” said San Diego head coach Kevin Ring.
The Tritons held a lead for a short time in set one, mainly due to self-inflicted errors at the service line with the 49ers committing seven service errors in the first set alone. “There’s no doubt we missed some serves early in the match and got behind,” said Long Beach head coach Alan Knipe.
Long Beach cleaned up its act from the service line and made a combined seven service errors over the next two sets.
The 49ers would empty the bench, receiving contributions from 15 different players.
“We have a system and a way we want to play and it’s not individually catered to certain guys,” Knipe said. “It’s a system that our guys believe in and work at and we stress that it’s a system that we can move guys in and out and the execution shouldn’t change.”
The 49ers were led by junior setter Josh Tuaniga as he would receive the only double-double in the match going for 34 assists and 11 digs.
The win sealed the first ever Big West title for Long Beach with two games left to play on the conference schedule.
“It’s a big deal just because the amount of love I have for the program, the guys and the coaching staff,” Tuaniga said. “It’s a product of the work these guys have been putting in. I’m just stoked we could come out and get this and show people how much work we have been putting in.”
Long Beach will start its final series of the year at 9 p.m. Friday against No. 6 Hawaii on the road at the Stan Sheriff Center.