No. 1 Long Beach State earned the top seed in the NCAA Division I men's volleyball championship after sweeping Hawai'i in three sets Saturday for the Big West title. The Beach (26-1) earned a bye into the semifinals, where it will take on the winner of the of the match between UC Irvine and the winner of the Ohio State-King match Thursday, May 3 at 5 p.m. at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.
Long Beach State men’s volleyball team lost their first exhibition, a stinging defeat to a 137-year-old school in Canada better known for alumni John Candy and Martin Short. Water polo, not volleyball, is that school’s most successful sport.
Yet on a chilly Canadian night, the McMaster Marauders celebrated an unlikely victory against preseason No. 2-ranked team in the United States. Then it happened again the following night.
Those two matches not only exposed early-season weaknesses but set the tone for the rest of the Beach’s season. From then on, a committed Beach squad would strive to improve week to week, match to match. No excuses. No slacking. No losing.
“We really didn’t know what the team would look like before we went on those trips, but when we came home from those trips we had a pretty good idea of who we were starting to be,” said Coach Alan Knipe.
The Beach would end up being the best team in the nation for the next three months, going undefeated until the final regular-season game. The No. 1-ranked Beach had become winners.
Now, can they become Big West champions, and ultimately national champions? The Beach (24-1, 9-1) gets started on its quest for the conference championship this weekend at The Pyramid. Long Beach State receives a bye into the semifinals and will play the winner of the quarterfinal match between Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The NCAA Championships are May 3-5 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
Last season the Beach fell in the NCAA semifinals after playing what Knipe described as playing “not their best volleyball.” This year, the team returned All-America starters – junior outside hitter TJ DeFalco, recently named Big West Player of the Year, juniors Josh Tuaniga (setter) and Kyle Ensing (hitter). The rest of the starting lineup was comprised of newcomers, giving the Beach a different complexion.
Knipe said the players gelled during the early-season trips that took the team from Canada to the Midwest to the east coast over a period of five-plus weeks.
“We started off going to Canada right around the New Year and then we played in the Santa Barbara tournament, said Knipe, Big West Coach of the Year. “We traveled to Chicago and … then we came home and went to Stanford. Then we landed on the east coast and played Harvard and George Mason. There weren’t only good volleyball teams we had to deal with, but travel, weather and other things that can go a million different ways for you.
“But what we got out of it was we were playing better and better each week and we didn’t have anything crazy happen. We didn’t get stuck in a snow and didn’t play a match. The scheduling part went well and what you get out of that is really good time spent with the team on the road.
“Then we started to have this team’s identity.”