Daily 49er

Long Beach State is heading to the Final Four

Long Beach State men's volleyball bounces back from first set loss to defeats Hawai'i in four sets.

Men's volleyball celebrate their victory over No. 4 Hawai'i in four sets Saturday night.

Bobby Yagake

Men's volleyball celebrate their victory over No. 4 Hawai'i in four sets Saturday night.

Jordan Py, Staff Writer

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After winning the MPSF conference title Saturday, the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team will be the No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

The Beach will automatically advance to the Final Four of the tournament where they await the winner of BYU and Barton. Ohio State earned the No. 1 overall seed and will await the winner of Hawai’i and Penn State.

The semifinals will begin May 4 at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

On Saturday, Walter Pyramid was rocking as No. 1 Long Beach State men’s volleyball defeated No. 4 Hawai’i in four sets on Saturday night to win their first MPSF title in Long Beach State history.

This was the third matchup of the season between these two teams and Hawai’i made it tough for the Beach to claim their first title. Hawai’i carried over their momentum after upsetting BYU in the semi-finals on Thursday night and dominated the first set, beating the Beach 25-17. The Beach held their composure and won the match in straight sets after the first [25-20, 25-13, 25-23].

“Neither team was real crisp offensively from the start,” Hawai’i head coach Charlie Wade said. “We came out with good emotion and played well enough to win that first set — and actually won it pretty handily.”

Although Hawai’i made it difficult for LBSU early, the Beach stuck to their game plan.

“Hawai’i came out really aggressive and they got on us a little bit,” LBSU head coach Alan Knipe said. “They converted some points, we made some mistakes and all of a sudden the first set got away from us. But we played a lot of good volleyball this year and one set wasn’t going to change a whole lot in what we believe in ourselves, so we tried to slow it down.”

LBSU did slow the game down by taking control, but it was the play of MPSF player of the year and MPSF tournament MVP, sophomore outside hitter TJ DeFalco, that shifted the momentum. After a sluggish first set with zero kills, DeFalco stepped up with six kills in the second set alone and 12 kills overall — but DeFalco gives the credit of his success to his teammates.

“Josh [Tuaniga] is a phenomenal setter,” DeFalco said. “Also, give credit to Kyle [Ensing] dominating his side of the net. I wouldn’t have nearly the success I do because the teamwork we put together.”

The match shifted in the second set when Hawai’i senior middle blocker Hendrick Mol went down with an ankle injury and left the match. Hawai’i looked out of sync with Mol on the shelf, and when they did get their rhythm back it was too late.

“It took us a little bit to adjust after Hendrick went down with the ankle injury,” Hawai’i senior setter Jennings Franciskovic said.

Even with the Mol injury, the Beach looked unbeatable after the first set and sophomore opposite Kyle Ensing gave credit to the Pyramid crowd.

“The crowd played a big factor in this game,” Ensing said. “All the students and the alumni coming out helped us a lot and just made the environment of this championship game even better.”

The Beach clinched a spot in the national championship tournament for the second straight season, the first time since the 1990-91 season. With high expectations and having already played the defending national champs, Ohio State, earlier this season coach Knipe is confident no matter where his team lands in the bracket they will succeed.

“In reality you want to be in that environment,” Knipe said. “Ohio State over the last 24 months has really set the bar for service pressure and being aggressive and having to deal with that. I think we learned that we just weren’t quite good enough in those two areas but we learned a lot about ourselves.”

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