In this article, we’ll break down all of the things you need to know (and some you probably don’t) when you watch the Men’s National Collegiate Volleyball Championship at Pauley Pavilion or on ESPN2 today at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST.
First, we’d like to thank Michael Sondheimer for the NCAA Men’s Notes listed below. He wrote a book entitled “NCAA Volleyball History: Coaches, Players, Personalities & Teams” that is a must-read for all volleydorks like us. His book is available on Amazon right now.
- The first NCAA title was played at Pauley Pavilion in 1970, when UCLA, led by Hall of Fame coach Al Scates beat Long Beach State 3-0. This was the only time the two teams have played in the NCAA tournament.
- UCLA has won 9 championships at Pauley Pavilion, while Long Beach has lost title matches in Pauley in 1970 and 1999 (BYU).
- AVCA National Coach of the Year Alan Knipe is trying to be the fourth person in NCAA history to win men’s titles as a player (was a middle blocker on LBSU’s 1991 championship team) and as a head coach (lost in finals in 2004, lost in semis in 2016 and 2017). The others? Rod Wilde, Bob Yoder and John Speraw.
- John Speraw is the only person in NCAA history to win as a player, an assistant coach (2000 for UCLA) and as head coach (2007, 2009 and 2012, all at UC Irvine).
- John Speraw is trying to be the second person in NCAA history to win men’s championships at two different schools. Tom Peterson (Penn State in 1994 and BYU in 2004) is the other.
- Alan Knipe was the head coach for the USA 2012 Olympic Team, and John Speraw was his assistant. Speraw is the current men’s national team coach.
- UCLA is 9-1 lifetime in national championships played at Pauley Pavilion.
- UCLA is the only school to play in the National Championship match in every decade.
- Long Beach and UCLA played a home-and-home series earlier this season, with LBSU winning both in four sets.
- Long Beach leads the nation in hitting percentage at .377, while UCLA isn’t far behind at .351 for the season.
- This will be LBSU’s seventh appearance in the title match, the last being in 2004. Their only title was in 1991.
- This will be UCLA’s 27th appearance in the title match, the last being in 2006. They have won 19 titles overall, the last being in 2006.
- Long Beach State has been led by 2018 AVCA Player of the Year and junior setter Josh Tuaniga. He averages 10.5 assists per set, which is second in the Big West and 6th nationally.
- The junior brigade runs deep at Long Beach, with junior pin attackers Kyle Ensing and TJ DeFalco leading the charge. Both recorded their 1000th career kill this season, and both average over 3.5 kills per set. No other LBSU attacker has more than 1.8 kills per set.
- DeFalco is also deadly from behind the service line. He averages .53 aces per set, tops in the Big West and fourth nationally.
- Nick Amado leads LBSU’s net defense, averaging 1.18 blocks per set. That ranks him second in the Big West and fifth nationally.
- Junior libero Jordan Molina averages 2.09 digs per set. That’s 4th in the Big West and 27th overall.
- UCLA has been led by senior opposite Christian Hessenauer with 3.48 kills per set. That total puts him fifth in the MPSF and 23rd nationally.
- The Bruins boast four players with more than 2 kills per set. Sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah is at 2.35, senior outside hitter Jake Arnitz averages 2.29, and junior outside hitter Dylan Missry averages 2.16.
- That distribution puts UCLA at the top in the MPSF and third nationally in kills per set as a team, averaging 13.11 per set.
- Gyimah also boasts the best hitting percentage in the country, at .541, and the third best blocks per set in the country, at 1.24 per set.
- Junior setter Micah Ma’a is fourth nationally in assists per set, at 10.56.
- No floor defender digs more than 2 digs per set. The only full-time player close to that total is Ma’a, who averages 1.72 per set.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Long Beach and UCLA have been relentless from behind the baseline all season, and, regardless of the score, will take the miscues with the aces and out-of-system pressures that each team will create. Both teams average over 1.7 aces per set, and probably twice that many out-of-system passes per set. The difference will be to stay in system and hope that the other team makes enough unforced errors to have to play catch-up throughout the match. When Hawai’i defeated Long Beach on April 14, all of the statistical categories were equal with the exception of service errors. Long Beach had 7 aces to 21 errrors, whereas the Rainbow Warriors had 6 aces to their 15 service errors.
Against the #1 team in the country, you need to take advantage of any weakness, and Hawai’i did just that. Keeping the 49ers out-of-system makes them predictable, and with Ensing and DeFalco shouldering the lion’s share of the offense, you can then set your defense accordingly.
UCLA, as a contrast, runs a well-distributed offense who is accustomed to having multiple players in support roles produce. As mentioned above, four Bruins average over 2 kills per set. For UCLA to win tonight, they’ll need three things to go right; relentless serving without the unforced errors, stay in system to keep the LBSU defense guessing, and hope for unforced errors from the 49ers. If not, this will be a quick national final.