The Final Four has arrived inside the Walter Pyramid with Long Beach State facing off against Pepperdine University Thursday.
After defeating Princeton University in the quarterfinal of the NCAA Tournament, Pepperdine has familiarized itself with the arena. The Waves have some momentum heading into this matchup after sweeping through the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament and becoming conference champions with a victory over USC.
The 49ers will have home court advantage, as the arena will be sold out to watch the host team play. Long Beach will be led by its big three in seniors TJ DeFalco, Kyle Ensing and Josh Tuaniga. The recently named AVCA All-Americans have paved the way to having one of the most efficient offenses, attributing to a .411 hitting percentage which equates to second in the nation.
Ensing, the Big West Player of the Year, and DeFalco, the AVCA Player of the Year, have the highest volume when going for kills so it’s no surprise they lead the team with 343 and 329, respectively. Tuaniga, on the other hand, is the one who sets the entire offense up with his efficient setting, producing 10.72 assists per set which is good for third in the nation.
The match will be Long Beach’s first since dropping the Big West Tournament championship match to conference rival Hawai’i Apr. 20. The 49ers are seeking to avoid another loss that would end its postseason early.
“We prepped well during the week, we prepped well during the season [knowing] there would be a break and then have to shut it down and start up again,” head coach Alan Knipe said. “As a head coach … you want to see your guys a little edgy by this time … like let’s go out, let’s play some volleyball.”
This will be the first time this season that the 49ers will face the Waves, so Long Beach will have to rely on its film to counter Pepperdine’s offense. The 49ers will need to find ways to limit the Waves’ redshirt senior outside hitter David Wieczorek, who leads the team with 409 kills while hitting a team-high .380.
“Getting to watch the match last night in person and having played Pepperdine for a couple years now, he’s turned out to be a fantastic player,” DeFalco said of Wieczorek. “He does a bunch of things really well and that’s what’s going to make him tough to defend against.”
The season is coming to end, and for Long Beach’s seniors it’s the end of their collegiate careers. Senior libero Jordan Molina reflected on what it’s like to close the season out at home.
“It’s definitely a bittersweet moment knowing that it’s our last year, but we get to spend it here in the Pyramid so that makes the sweeter moment,” Molina said. “I think it’s amazing that we get to play in our own gym for a potential national title, and I think that I could say the same thing for everyone else [on the team].”
The battle between the 49ers and the Waves will determine who goes home empty-handed and who moves on for a chance at a national championship.
Long Beach and Pepperdine will square off Thursday 7:30 p.m. inside the Walter Pyramid in the semifinal match of the NCAA Tournament.