Take a pickaxe to the drought: 49ers win first NCAA championship in 27 years

Photo courtesy of Long Beach State athletics

It was just that type of special season for setter Josh Tuaniga.

With the fourth game tied at 24-24 and Long Beach State two points away from elimination, the 2018 National Player of the Year had a setter dump kill to set up a game-point opportunity. Seconds later ,Tuaniga was behind the service line and ripped off an ace to force a decisive fifth game in the NCAA Tournament finals.

Long Beach State and Tuaniga in the final game completed the comeback to defeat UCLA 25-19, 23-25, 20-25, 26-24, 15-12 on Saturday in Los Angeles and win the program’s first national championship in 27 years.

Tuaniga in the championship victory guided the Long Beach State offense to a .325 attack percentage, including the team having zero attack errors and hitting .448 in the fourth game. The setter also was selected as the NCAA Most Outstanding Player to cap off a junior season that featured him earning All-American honors, the Lloy Ball Award as the nation’s top setter and the National Player of the Year.

All-American opposite Kyle Ensing led the 49ers with both a 20 kills on a .326 attack percentage and four aces. In addition, All-American outside attacker TJ DeFalco had 18 kills on a.419 attack percentage along with a match-high 12 digs.

Both Ensing and DeFalco were the only Long Beach State players to have more than six kills.

UCLA tied the NCAA Tournament finals record during the 25-point rally scoring era with 26 service errors. This was the third straight NCAA Tournament match that the Bruins had more than 20 service errors.

UCLA finished with a .328 attack percentage — .003 percentage points better than Long Beach State. However, the Bruins hit a match-low .062 in the decisive fifth game.

Long Beach State All-American middle attacker Nick Amado had a game-high three blocks and the match-winning kill in the fifth game. Amado also led all players in the finals with six blocks.

Outside attacker Dylan Missry in the loss had a match-high six aces and was one of four Burins to have double-digit kills.

All-American middle attacker Daenan Gyimah finished with a match-high 21 kills on a .375 to extend his postseason streak to five straight matches with double-digit kills. Opposite Christian Hessenauer also had 12 kills and 10 digs, while outside attack Jake Arnitz added 10 kills.

UCLA was attempting to end its 12-year title drought and win its 20th NCAA championship in program history.

Long Beach State is the third team during the rally scoring era to win a NCAA championship and finish the season with one or fewer loses.

This championship occurs in the inaugural season of the Big West men’s volleyball conference. Long Beach State, along with five other Big West schools, departed the MPSF in the offseason to join the newly created men’s volleyball conference.

Long Beach State is the first West Coast team to win the NCAA championship since UC Irvine in 2013.