It’s hard to miss the chemistry and brotherly connection between Josh Tuaniga, TJ DeFalco, Nick Armado, Jordan Molina, Kyle Ensing and Louis Richard. They finish each other’s sentences and share a level of comradery they carry off the court and into their daily interactions.
For them, walking out of practice and straight into a photoshoot with the Los Angeles Times isn’t unusual. And while the Times snapped photos of the reigning champions, they spoke with the 49er about their plans for the future, their volleyball family and their menagerie of nicknames they have for each other.
What did you gain out of being a part of the No. 1 college volleyball team in the nation?
Josh Tuaniga, setter
Overall development as a player and what I’ve learned from coach Knipe and past coaches like Tyler Hildebrand just them showing us how the game works at a higher level, you know?
How about you TJ?
TJ DeFalco, outside hitter
I’d say maturity for the different processes in volleyball. Playing volleyball in high school or club is just engulfed in ‘get as many points as you can,’ but here there’s a structure, there’s a system that we follow to the T because that’s what we do and that’s ingrained in my brain.
How do you think being on the team has prepared you for your future?
I want to try to go pro and see what that holds. But a lot of the coaching staffs in the world are not going to be as good as this one. This is probably the best coaching staff in the country. It’s going to be kind of a letdown when I go pro because no coaching staff is like this because of the way they break stuff down.
I’m on the same route here, I just want to play overseas and see how that goes. It’s always been a dream of mine when I was young. I think going along with what Defalco said, the communication with the coaching staff, they’ve prepared us to do things on our own and take things into our own hands — they’re on top of things.
Tell me about the connection you’ve made with other players on the team.
It’s a brotherhood here. We’re family. When you spend eight, nine, 10 hours a day with these guys for four years straight, it’s kind of hard not to be a little bit involved you know? To have that relationship and desires to hang out afterwards just because how much time you put into getting to know each other and joking around and then being series and getting on the edge of argument and understanding that boundary between one another it’s kind of hard to just say, ‘OK I’m out of college I’ll see ya later.’
Do you guys have a lot of inside jokes?
We poke fun at each other a lot. There were a couple times where we went to Canada last year and there’s couple inside jokes that we have but it’s never really a “seniors” thing, it’s the whole team. There’s no real hierarchy, we’re all on the same plane. We can poke fun, we can call each other out on their stuff.
Do you have a nickname?
We’ve got Shane the Great Dane. Sometimes they call me JT. Then we’ve got DJ Thick Neck, Lu Lu Lemon, Lou, Jordan Molina, J-Mo, Beefcake.
What’s that other one?
Did you say Beefcake?
Yep Beefcake. We just throw shit out there and it kind of sticks.
What have you gained in your time at LBSU?
Louis Richard, outside hitter
I’ve learned so much just from playing alongside my teammates and there’s so many different perspectives on certain situations and it’s just so much knowledge that we’re gaining everyday.
Jordan Molina, libero
I’ve gained some core values that we have on the team — ethic that kind of bled into the rest of my life and paying attention to detail and putting that into school as well as work. Just having the culture of knowing that we have each other’s backs and relying on each other.
Nick Amado, middle blocker
I’ve gained a family. Just 20 other dudes that I can confidently call my brothers. Dudes that are here now, dudes that have been here in the past and not a lot of people truly get to feel like they are a part of something significant and I truly feel that we have a significant family here at Long Beach — one that’s here presently and one that’s been here in the past and one that’s going to be here in the future.
Kyle Ensing, opposite/outside hitter
I’ve gained a bond with my brothers on the team, friendships and playing together as a family definitely shows how well we’ve done over the past couple years. [My Volleyball] IQ has risen with the coaching staff here … it’s really given me a chance to step up my game.
How did LBSU prepare you for your future?
We stress a lot about the controllables with communication, effort and attitude and you can literally bleed that into your whole life. Communication with your family, at work or with teachers, the effort you put into your school work or your relationships and in your life in general and the attitude in how you approach things and that’s the biggest thing that I could take away from here.
We talk about the comfortable and uncomfortable situations and I think that’s worked for me because I’m a journalism major here and I’m not that much of a vocal person and I’m not as comfortable in going and talking to people so just like having that mindset being comfortable in a situation that makes me feel uncomfortable, that’s prepared me to go out there and be ready to pursue my career and after college.
What Long Beach has taught me is that there are events in our lives that you can’t control. So when it comes down to it, it’s your response that is going to lead the outcome. It’s the same thing in the game you can’t control the calls refs make and it’s the same thing when it comes to life, you can’t control a lot of decisions people make and the only thing you can control is your response and that will dictate the outcome and that’s been a significant factor in my life.
What are you planning on doing when you graduate?
Sheet uh. I’m going to do another seven years (laughs) I’m currently getting my masters degree in public policy so uh after I’m done with school I want to continue playing volleyball overseas and then when I’m done doing that I want to go into environmental policy.
I want to go play overseas for as long as I can and then when I’m done peruse my journalism career and go into television production.
And what about you, what are you planning on doing?
Just playing volleyball.
In what capacity? Where would be ideal?
Hm, where do I want to play? Italy.
And how has being on this team prepared you for that?
Watering the green spots. It’s our motto. Get one, two percent better everyday and that’s what kind of helped me get better at the fundamentals of the game and it’s improved the basic parts of the game which has helped me rise in other parts of the game.
Do you guys think you’ll stay in contact after you graduate?
Yeah they’re all coming to [the] wedding.
I’m just kidding, don’t write that.
Not talking to anyone ever again except for Nick Amado.
Yeah I’m going off the grid after college. I’m completely disappearing.
We’re probably going to stay in contact.
There’s people that have graduated now that we-
Still talk to. Like I was saying before, once you’re in this program you’re family. That goes beyond generations even to an extent. You’re going to run into people who played here in the early 2000s who will come up to you and talk to you like they’ve known you for years because they understand what it’s like to be part of the Long Beach men’s volleyball team.
They know what we’re going through and they come to our games to see the legacy they’ve left behind and see the legacy they’ve left behind.
I don’t know why they don’t interview us more often.