Daily 49er

TJ DeFalco was the spark igniting a dominate second set against UCLA

The reigning AVCA player of the year took over at the perfect time to lead No.1 Long Beach to a 3-1 win.

Long+Beach+State+junior+TJ+DeFalco+spikes+a+ball+in+Saturday%27s+game+against+No.+2+UCLA+at+the+Walter+Pyramid.+
Long Beach State junior TJ DeFalco spikes a ball in Saturday's game against No. 2 UCLA at the Walter Pyramid.

Long Beach State junior TJ DeFalco spikes a ball in Saturday's game against No. 2 UCLA at the Walter Pyramid.

Joseph Kling

Joseph Kling

Long Beach State junior TJ DeFalco spikes a ball in Saturday's game against No. 2 UCLA at the Walter Pyramid.

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A men’s volleyball record crowd of 4,560 inside the Walter Pyramid Saturday sat in near silence after No. 2 UCLA won the first set 25-23 over No. 1 Long Beach State men’s volleyball.

A kill by senior opposite Christian Hessenauer snapped a 29 set win streak, but more importantly gave the Bruins the early advantage in a highly-anticipated battle of two volleyball goliaths.

“It’s been a long while since we dropped a set,” Long beach head coach Alan Knipe said.

Long Beach needed a spark. Junior outside hitter TJ DeFalco, the reigning AVCA player of the year, provided just that for the top team in the country that went on win the match 3-1.

DeFalco connected for five violent kills and four digs in the second set, as Long Beach cruised to a 25-15 win to answer the statement made by UCLA to open the contest.

“In the second set, I told myself to lock in on anything that I could, whether it was defense, offense or helping our guys refocus,” DeFalco said.

The energy of the game shifted with each ball shot out of the cannon that is DeFalco’s right arm. The home team’s celebrations after each point in the set intensified, and the bright expressions on the faces of the Bruins players slowly dimmed. Long Beach’s star player had almost single handedly swung the momentum back to their side.

“It’s almost like going on a ride and letting him [DeFalco] do his thing,” said junior setter Josh Tuaniga.

Knipe has stressed all season that one of his main goals is to balance the offensive effort, and it has shown on the stat sheet as well. Junior outside hitter Kyle Ensing led Long Beach in kills leading up to Saturday’s match. But already down one game, it was time for the ball to start going DeFalco’s way.

“It is nice when you need to set [DeFalco] a few more balls than you have in the past because you’re going to be able to go to him,” Knipe said. “That’s just a competitor taking over.”

The 49ers defense was also energized in the second set as DeFalco was a part of three blocks, each one more impressive than the last. Leading 12-9, he had a solo block on an attempt by Hessenauer and motioned to the home crowd, which responded with one of the loudest roars in the game.

“My thing in that point in time was blocking and making the best move I possibly [could] to put myself in position,” DeFalco said.

He would eventually record a double-double with 17 kills and 12 digs in the game.

Long Beach went on to win the third set 25-19 and clinch the match with a 25-21 victory in the fourth to retain its perfect record.

“That’s an internal clock right there,” Knipe said. “An internal engine to drive and [say] ‘I’m going to do even more to win the match’ and that’s what the great players do.”

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