Brandon Johnson | Off the Block special contributor
There is now no questioning who is the best team in the country.
No. 1/1 Long Beach State and No. 2/2 UCLA took the court on Wednesday in Los Angeles for a rematch of a contest that the 49ers won just four days earlier. Once again, the 49ers proved to be an unstoppable force as they took down the Bruins in four sets.
The Long Beach State “Big 3” wowed the crowd of 1,910 people in Pauley Pavilion as TJ Defalco, the 2017 AVCA National Player of the Year, racked up 23 kills (.500), All-American opposite Kyle Ensing chipped in 19 kills (.400) and All-American setter Josh Tuaniga handed out 57 assists to along with 13 digs.
However, it was the Long Beach State supporting cast that was the difference in the match.
Outside hitter Bjarn Huus put down nine kills to go along with 11 digs and three blocks, while middle blockers Simon Anderson and Nick Amado combined for 14 kills and seven blocks. Libero Jordan Molina contributed six digs and was a solid presence in serve receive against the strong UCLA serve.
“We fought well as a team,” Huus said. “It took some time to get going, but I think it was for sure a team effort.”
When it appeared that DeFalco would get an important swing, Tuaniga fed the middles. When Ensing was attracting the attention of the block, Huus was left one-on-one. In a match that was statistically even in many areas, Long Beach State dominated on the offensive end.
As a team, the 49ers hit .408 for the match, while holding the Bruins to a .315 attack efficiency. Long Beach State racked up 67 kills to just 55 for UCLA.
“It’s a team effort [and] it’s a big credit to the middles,” Huus said. “You see often that Kyle and TJ has one guy up, sometimes none, because of the middles getting [the other team’s middles] kind of jumpy.”
On the UCLA side, they are left wondering what now. Coming into the two matches, many had thought that the Bruins had surpassed the 49ers as the top team in the country.
Although the Bruins played the rematch with starting opposite Christian Hessenauer, who missed the match for an undisclosed reason, they looked out-matched at nearly every position. In both matches, they hit well below their season average and their normally effective serving was neutralized by the Long Beach State passing.
UCLA also followed up these back-to-back losses against Long Beach State with a conference loss against No. 10/8 Pepperdine on Saturday.
The Bruins should still be considered one of the favorites to capture the MPSF championship, but the gulf between them and the 49ers is wide at the moment.
For now, the 2018 NCAA championship is the 49ers’ to lose.
The Beach has lost three games in their first 14 matches. As they enter conference play, they are the prohibitive favorite to not only bring home the first Big West championship, but there does not appear to be much resistance in their effort to bring home the first NCAA championship for the school since 1991.
Brandon Johnson is an Off the Block special contributor and writes the column Sideline Observations. His views do not necessarily represent those of Off the Block.