Lindenwood to have home matches vs. UCLA, Long Beach in 2019

Photo by Jay Sowers

The two teams that played in the 2018 NCAA Tournament finals will be coming to Lindenwood.

Lindenwood as part of recently unveiling its 2019 schedule announced it will play home non-conference against UCLA and Long Beach State.

Long Beach State finished last season rallying from a one-game deficit to beat UCLA in a decisive fifth game and capture its first NCAA championship in almost 30 years. In addition, both teams ended as the top-two ranked teams in the national coaches poll and national media poll.

These non-conference opponents for Lindenwood are coming a year after the program had its most wins since 2015 and was ranked No. 5 in the Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. Division II National Coaches Poll.

The Lions opened the 2018 season winning the tournament champions at the Off the Block Grow the Game Challenge. It also upset the MIVA regular season champions Loyola during the final week of the regular season.

Among the starters returning for the Lions includes middle attacker Connor Hipelius, who was in the MIVA’s top five last season with both 104 blocks and a .387 attack percentage.

Lindenwood will play UCLA on Jan. 12 in its opening weekend of the season before traveling to Tennessee the following week to defend its title at the Grow the Game Challenge.

This will be the series’ first meeting between UCLA and Lindenwood.

The Bruins return two First-Team All-Americans — setter Micah Ma’a and middle attacker Daenan Gyimah.

Ma’a, a finalist for the 2018 Lloy Ball Award, guided the Bruins the nation’s second-best attack percentage at .350 and was one of six players in country to have more than 50 aces. In addition, Gyimah won the 2018 Ryan Millar Award as the nation’s top middle attacker after leading the NCAA with a .528 attack percentage and being third in the nation averaging 1.22 blocks per game.

Long Beach State will participate at the Lindenwood Invitational and play its tournament opener against the host school on Jan. 31.

The 49ers not only return three First-Team All-Americans from a team that finished 28-1 last season but have two returning starters who were previous recipients of the AVCA National Player of the Year.

Josh Tuaniga last season became the first setter in almost a decade to win the National Player of the Year. Tuaniga in 2018 led the 49ers to a .375 attack percentage — the highest single-season team attack percentage during the NCAA 25-point rally scoring era.

Outside attacker TJ DeFalco earned the top individual honor in college men’s volleyball as a sophomore in 2017. DeFaclo after leading the 49ers to the national title also spent this offseason helping the United States earn a bronze medal at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.

This will be the second time in its program history that Long Beach State will play Lindenwood. The 49ers swept the Lions in the inaugural meeting in 2015.