In what can only be described as redemption, the No. 1 seed Long Beach State men’s volleyball team dismantled the No. 2 seed University of Hawaii Saturday in the Big West tournament championship, pleasing 2,325 fans at the Walter Pyramid.
Exactly one week after suffering a brutal five-set loss in a thriller at the Stan Sheriff center in Hawaii, Long Beach swept Hawaii in three sets 25-23 25-14 25-19 to take the inaugural Big West tournament championship.
The match began with a bang as both teams battled through five ties in the first set.
“It was a very typical start to a playoff or championship-level match where it was close in the first set,” Long Beach head coach Alan Knipe said.
The two teams competed late into the first set before a key kill and block by junior middle blocker Nick Amado that solidified the opening game.
“[Amado] is such an extrovert,” Knipe said. “Everything is so positive with him. His play has been really consistent, especially over the last half of the season.”
Amado finished the night with a match-high seven blocks to go along with his four kills.
The 49ers completely handled the Rainbow Warriors for the rest of the match taking 10-point leads in each of the next two sets. The turning point in the match came when junior outside hitter TJ DeFalco rattled off three straight points, including back-to-back aces, stretching the lead to 19-8 in the second set.
“I was a little concerned in warm ups given the travel we have had,” Hawaii head coach Charlie Wade said. “In warm ups it seemed like we had heavy legs. It was not a big difference…overall [the 49ers] were better than us tonight.”
Long Beach could not be stopped and was lead by junior setter Josh Tuaniga. He finished the match with 32 assists, three service aces and a kill en route to earning tournament MVP.
“I was able to lean on my boys a lot for some mistakes I was making early,” Tuaniga said. “I was super stoked. That trophy is not just for me but for my boys.”
For the second night in a row, Long Beach dominated its opponent from behind the service line, racking up 10 aces as a team. DeFalco led all players in the match with four. His second ace of the night moved him into fourth on the all-time aces list at Long Beach State with 124. He ended the night with eight kills, four blocks, four service aces and three digs.
The 49ers implored a balanced offensive attack, spreading kills across the board.
“One of the main things is confidence, confidence in my boys,” Tuaniga said. “It’s one thing that radiates from guys like Bjarn [Huus], Simon [Anderson], or Nick [Amado] who don’t always get those double digit kills like TJ [DeFalco] or Kyle [Ensing], they radiate that confidence.”
Next for Long Beach is an inevitable first round bye in the NCAA tournament. The tournament will be played at UCLA in the Pauley Pavilion May 3-5 and the schedule will be set after the selection show Sunday. The 49ers will look to cap an impressive season with a run at a national championship.