This has been a season of firsts for Long Beach State men’s volleyball team, starting with the national ranking.
Long Beach moved in the No. 1 spot in the AVCA rankings in March after winning 12 consecutive matches in March. They went 10-0 at the Pyramid during that streak, and finished undefeated in 16 overall home matches.
It is also the first time the team finished the season as the top-ranked team since 1992.
The Beach then claimed its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season title since 2001 and added the program’s first-ever conference championship in any sport with a 3-1 victory against Hawaii on Saturday. The victory clinched a spot in next week’s NCAA Tournament, where Long Beach (27-3) is seeded No. 2.
Long Beach will play the winner of the play-in game between BYU and Barton College at 4 p.m. (PDT) May 4, while top-seeded Ohio State (27-2) will face the Hawaii-Penn State winner later at 6 p.m. (PDT) at St. John’s Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
While it will be Long Beach State’s second consecutive trip to the Final Four (last season they won a play-in game to qualify), the team will be aiming for its first national championship since 1991 when Long Beach defeated USC in the final.
Individually, setter Josh Tuaniga is first in the nation with 11.13 assists per set, and a .371 attack percentage.
Yet for all the “firsts” the team set this season, Coach Alan Knipe said its about second chances for this group of players.
“For us, last year it was a huge climb to get our team into position of getting into the tournament,” Knipe said. “We had to play the play-in game. We had to wait for the selection committee to give us the at-large bid. So, there were a lot of firsts.
“It’s good you have to go through them. Each group has to go through the firsts. The difference of this team is that we came in at the start of the season with a better idea of what we were working towards. It’s seconds now. The second time to go through the season. The second time to play in the MPSF tournament.
“These are all the goals we checked off during the season.”
Many players reached goals as well. Sophomores TJ DeFalco and Kyle Ensing has helped Long Beach reach its lofty status by averaging 3.99 and 3.35 kills per set, respectively. Defensively, senior libero Andrew Sato controls the backrow with 2.46 digs per set, while Bryce Yould and Amir Lugo-Rodriguez have .094 and 1.30 blocks, respectively.
Next week’s trip, however, will not be Long Beach’s first appearance at the Final Four. It is the fourth time the team has gone under Knipe and ninth time overall. But it is the first time the team has gone in back-to-back seasons since 1990 and ’91.