Photo courtesy of LBSU Athletics.
Top-seeded Long Beach State has won the NCAA men’s volleyball championship, defeating unseeded UCLA, 25-19, 23-25, 20-25, 26-24, 15-12, at Pauley Pavilion.
The 49ers were two points away from defeat Saturday, twice in the fourth set. The Bruins tied the score, 23-23, on outside hitter Dylan Missry’s kill, but he then served the ball into the net, giving Long Beach State a 24-23 lead.
A kill by UCLA outside hitter Jake Arnitz tied the score for the eighth time in the set, but a kill by 49ers setter Josh Tuaniga and his service ace gave Long Beach State the victory, forcing the decisive fifth set.
“When I served that ball and it landed, I don’t know how close it was, but I thought it was out,” said Tuaniga, who was voted as the most outstanding player of the NCAA Tournament, capping a season when he was selected as the national player of the year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
“I was devastated. And then I see a linesman just do that with a flag. It was all good from there.”
Josh Tuaniga of the 2018 NATIONAL CHAMPION 🏆@lbsumvb team is our Athlete of the Week! Tuaniga was named the AVCA National Player of the Year and doubled down with earning Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. #GoBeach #LBNation pic.twitter.com/qT6QoCSFRP
— LBSU Athletics (@LBSUAthletics) May 7, 2018
There were five ties and four lead changes in the fifth set. Long Beach State took the set for good when back-to-back attack errors by Bruins opposite Christian Hessenauer and a third by Missry gave the 49ers a 12-9 lead, three points away from victory.
The Bruins pulled within one, 12-11, on a service error by Tuaniga and an attack error by opposite/outside hitter Kyle Ensing, but UCLA was unable to get any closer.
A kill by middle blocker Nick Amado assured the 49ers of their second men’s volleyball championship and first since 1991.
“I wanted to go out there and bomb (serves),” Bruins coach John Speraw said. “That was the only way we were going to win.
“I think somewhere in the middle of that fifth set, we probably fatigued a little bit. We had a run at the end of that fourth set when we had all of our best servers go back and error, and I think it was a lot about fatigue.”
— LBSU Athletics (@LBSUAthletics) May 6, 2018
Among the factors cited by Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe for the outstanding season and national championship were experiences from trips to the East Coast, Chicago and Canada.
Knipe praised Long Beach State President Jane Close Conoley and the university’s administration “for allowing us to grow our sport and to grow our program and allow us to take those trips and to invest in our athletes.”
“It’s an entire family that has allowed this to happen this year,” Knipe said.
Joining Tuaniga, who had 46 assists, on the All-Tournament Team were Ensing, an opposite/outside hitter who had a team-high 20 kills, and 49ers outside hitter TJ DeFalco, who had 18 kills.
UCLA setter Micah Ma’a, who had 52 assists, and Bruins sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah, who had a match-high 21 kills, were also selected for the All-Tournament Team.
This was the 49ers’ seventh appearance in the National Championship match, and first since 2004.
— Robert Garcia (@RobertGarciaLB) May 6, 2018
UCLA was seeking to increase its own record for NCAA championships in men’s volleyball to 20. Its most recent NCAA men’s volleyball title was in 2006. This was the Bruins’ 26th appearance in the National Championship match and first since 2006.
The 49ers (28-1) moved into the No. 1 spot in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll January 15 and has remained there ever since. UCLA (26-8) is ranked third.
Long Beach State began the season with a school-record 24-match winning streak. The 49ers suffered their only loss April 14 at Hawaii.
This was the third meeting of the season between the two teams, with the 49ers winning both of the previous two matches in four sets.
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