A Valiant End for Volleyball

Beach and men’s teams defeated in finals

By Matthew Gozzip Athletics Editor

After one of the most dominant volleyball seasons in program history, the Long Beach State’s men’s volleyball and beach volleyball teams lost in the opening rounds of the collegiate national championships.

The surging beach volleyball team exited the competition unceremoniously, losing both of their matches in the tournament against two of the premier programs in the country.

The no. 3 ranked Pepperdine (25–3) blanked the sixth ranked 49ers, 3–0, defeating top flight duo Rachel Nieto and Nele Barber and the second-ranked group Anete Brinke and Hailey Harward. The Waves were a thorn in Long Beach State’s (26–10) sand all season, defeating them in all three contests between them. Brittany Howard and Corinne Quiggle bullied Brinke and Hayward in straight sets, 21–16, 21–14, while the usually steady Nieto and Barber couldn’t capture a rhythm after a tough first set.

LBSU’s tough loss sent them to the elimination bracket against Louisiana State where the 49ers dropped the match, 3–2. Harward and Brinke won the first match 21–15, 21–18 against LSU’s Emmy Allen and Maddie Ligon, giving The Beach a 1–0 lead. Baber and Nieto fought through the first game struggles and raced off to an early set lead. They dropped the second set before losing in a dogfight in the third set tiebreaker. After exchanging the next two matches, the final contest was decided between the third-ranked duos. Kobi Pekich and Sasha Karelov dominated the first set but ultimately lost the match, ending the season for LBSU.

Across the country in Columbus, Ohio, the vaunted men’s volleyball team entered the national semifinals riding a winning streak and a growing swagger. Then they came out flat in the first and only contest. The no. 2 seed 49ers (27–4) fell to the no. 3 seed BYU Cougars (26–4) in a complete sweep, [20–25, 18–25, 23–25].

The Beach entered the contest as the favorites, especially after a record-breaking season on all levels. The program swept up all sorts of postseason awards, all-american selections, player of the year awards for TJ DeFalco and coach of the year awards for Alan Knipe. It didn’t matter once the Cougars pounced to an early lead and never gave it back. The trademark hitting accuracy and consistent play from the Beach didn’t arrive in Ohio as LBSU hit .215 in the match after knocking down 32 kills and committing 15 attack errors. The Beach nearly flipped the script in the third set by inserting underrated junior outside hitter Bjarne Huss to help spring to a 22–19 lead but BYU closed the match out.

It’s fair to assess the performances of both teams as disappointments, especially after doing well all season. Still, just like the play is on the court, there is no way to win without thinking about upward momentum. Excluding the national championship season, this was arguably the best season in men’s volleyball history. Not only were the trophy cases filled but the profile of the program continued to expand to a national level. Even better, the young nucleus Josh Tuaniga, Kyle Ensing and TJ DeFalco continued to excel and the coaching staff found solutions to get the rest of the team to perform well.

On the sand side, the beach volleyball returned to the championships after a year hiatus, an impressive feat for a program that only started to develop in the past several years. Even though the Beach has won a national championship before, the organized competition was much different. The Big West introduced Beach volleyball in 2015 and the level of play increased with the addition. Nieto and Barber set records for wins and won conference team of the week honors twice while Karelov, Harward, Brinke all return after strong underclasswomen campaigns.

The ball may have stopped spiking this season but the sun is shining favorably on the Beach, indoors and on the sand.

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