Legacy of Legends: Long Beach State beats Hawai’i to repeat as NCAA champions

Photo by Vinnie Lopes

It was only fitting that college men’s volleyball season ended on a TJ DeFalco kill.

The AVCA National Player of the Year had a match-high 20 kills on a .516 attack percentage as the No 2 seed Long Beach State defeated the No. 1 seed Hawai’i 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-23 on Saturday to win the NCAA championship.

DeFalco along with having the match-winning kill in his final college match led all players with six kills in the final game to secure their the 49ers’ second consecutive national title. The four-time All-American and three-time Karch Kiraly Award winner as the nation’s top outside attacker also had a match-high three aces in the championship match.

DeFalco was one of two 49ers to finish with double-digit kills. All-American opposite Kyle Ensing had 13 kills while hitting .333 against the Rainbow Warriors.

Long Beach State out-hit Hawai’i .427 to .324, including hitting a match-best .577 and committing one error in the final game. All-American setter Josh Tuaniga also guided the offense to a .500 attack percentage in the third game.

Tuaniga and DeFalco accounted for six of 49ers’ eight aces — five more aces than the Rainbow Warriors.

Middle attacker Simon Andersen in the victory had a match-high six blocks as Long Beach State out-blocked Hawai’i 12 to 4.

Hawai’i making its first NCAA Tournament finals appearance in 17 years had three players finish with double-digit kills. All-American opposite Rado Parapunov led the Rainbow Warriors with 16 kills, while outside attacker Stijn van Tilburg had 11 kills and outside attacker Colton Cowell added 10 kills.

Setter Joe Worsley guided the Hawai’i offense to more than a .300 attack percentage in all but the final game.

The fourth game featured a match-high 13 ties before late-game ace from Tuaniga gave the 49ers a two-point lead. Hawai’i following that ace to make the score 20-18 was only able to cut the deficit to one point throughout the rest of the game and two late-game kills from DeFalco helped ensure the win.

Long Beach State was able to match in the fourth game after a comeback win in the third game.

van Tilburg had four kills as part of a Hawai’i 5-0 run to open the third game. Long Beach State, though rallied back to tie the game at 7-7. With the score tied 15-15, DeFalco fired off back-to-back aces to give Long Beach State the lead.

Long Beach State led 23-22 and earned its first game-point of the third game following a misconnection from Worsley and middle attacker Patrick Gasman. DeFalco then converted on a game-winning kill off the block to put Long Beach State one game away from the national championship.

DeFalco finished the third game leading the 49ers with five kills.

Tuaniga had back-to-back aces in the second game to extend Long Beach State’s lead to 13-9. DeFalco also had a game-high four kills and an ace to help the Rainbow Warriors avert a Hawai’i comeback attempt and even the match.

Hawai’i opened the match on a 7-2 run and led by as many as eight points in an opening game. However, Hawai’i rallied to cut the deficit to one point and fought off a game-point before middle attacker Dalton Solbrig had a kill on an over-pass to secure the two-point victory.

Parapunov in that first game led all players with eight kills on a .636 attack percentage, while DeFalco had five kills and hit. 833.

Both Hawai’i and Long Beach State entered this finals with top two offenses in NCAA history during the 25-point rally scoring era.

The Rainbow Warriors led the nation with a .439 attack percentage, while the 49ers had the second-best attack percentage at .413. Long Beach State set the NCAA record last year hitting .375.

With this victory, Long Beach State becomes the fourth team in the last eight years to win back-to-back national championships. UC Irvine, Loyola and Ohio State achieved the feat earlier this decade.