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Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco has found success at every level

Long Beach State sophomore uses his drive to improve every day.

Sophomore TJ DeFalco prepares to pass the ball during LBSU’s win against BYU t Jan. 23, 2016.

Bobby Yagake

Sophomore TJ DeFalco prepares to pass the ball during LBSU’s win against BYU t Jan. 23, 2016.

Matthew Simon, Sports Editor

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TJ DeFalco’s road to the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team started way before he signed his Letter of Intent with the Beach in 2014.

It started before he was named a two-time Sunset League MVP with Huntington Beach High School, where he helped lead the Oilers to back-to-back CIF Southern Section Division I titles.

It started before he had the opportunity to practice with Olympic gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh at 15 years old.

It started with a phone call in 2009.

The phone call was from Darrick Lucero to former LBSU assistant coach Tyler Hildebrand while they were directors of the Huntington Beach Club.

“I was training in Anaheim with the [USA] national team and I drove home,” Hildebrand recalled. “It was like [11 p.m.] at night and Darrick was like, ‘Bro, you got to get back here, there’s this kid I’ve been trying to get from Temecula. He’s the best player of all time.’ He was totally building him up.”

So, after some convincing, Hildebrand went back to the gym and that kid Lucero was buzzing about was DeFalco. Hildebrand met DeFalco’s family and after watching him practice, they were able persuade DeFalco to play for their club.

“It was crazy what he was able to do at that age,” Hildebrand said.

From there, the rest is history as Hildebrand and LBSU head coach Alan Knipe signed DeFalco to cap one of the best recruiting classes in Long Beach State history five years later in 2014.

When recalling his past, DeFalco is a little modest about what he’s accomplished before turning 20, but he’s quick to acknowledge his teammates helping him transition to the college level and pushing him to do better.

“My team has been great about pushing me in practice every day even if I was like ‘I don’t want to go lift today,’” DeFalco said. “They’ve always kept me going on the right mindset and make me get better.”

DeFalco, the 2017 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year, gave credit to his family and coaches for the support they’ve given him since he decided he wanted to pursue volleyball.

“I would not be here if it wasn’t for my parents,” DeFalco said. “The things they sacrificed to get me to practice — driving from San Diego to Huntington Beach four nights a week to get me to get me to club practice — I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents help and influence, I love them dearly.”

DeFalco is one of the Knipe’s top reasons, when talking about LBSU’s return to success. Along with that, Knipe mentioned that DeFalco’s mentality has allowed him to continue to thrive.

“TJ is really similar to a lot of elite players [that] I’ve had the really good fortune of coaching,” Knipe said. “They have a real drive to be as good as they could possibly be.”

Since arriving at LBSU, DeFalco has become a staple of the team’s offense by leading the team in kills. The sophomore’s work ethic has allowed him to continue to improve.

“You have to commit to constantly trying to improve and if you want that to happen, then you have to be in to going hard all of the time,” Knipe said. “TJ does those things and has this great aspiration of where he’s going to be playing in the future, what his goals are, he’s totally committed to the process of improving in volleyball but also  in video and weights and on and off the court.”

DeFalco will look to continue to help LBSU win when it competes in the semifinals of the MPSF against UC Irvine tonight at 7:30 in the Walter Pyramid.

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