By Cybele Zhang
Coming off of a closely contested doubleheader versus No. 10 Brigham Young (8-5, 4-3 MPSF), No. 8 Stanford men’s volleyball (12-6, 4-3 MPSF) now looks to the most formidable opponent of them all: nearly perfect No. 1 Long Beach State (15-0, 2-0 Big West). Although unlikely, even winning a single set against the reigning national champions on Friday would be an admirable feat for the Cardinal.
Although this is a non-conference matchup, the gravity of this game cannot be understated. Long Beach is a member of the Big West Conference, a competitive league that boasts all four of the top teams in the AVCA Division I Poll. If Stanford hopes to make a run at the national championship, it will be important to take down the Goliath that is the 49ers.
Furthermore, Long Beach State’s home court advantage will certainly come into play. The Cardinal have not won a road game this season, and Walter Pyramid is usually a popular venue for volleyball — certainly attracting more spectators than Maples volleyball games.
Long Beach has only lost a single set during the entire regular season – excluding preseason exhibition games, one of which saw a set loss against the University of Southern California (9-7, 3-3 MPSF) on Jan. 25. The 49ers have won their last 19 consecutive matches, a streak that dates back to the 2018 season. In other words, Long Beach State is on a 328-day win streak.
At the helm of Long Beach’s seemingly unsinkable ship is senior outside hitter TJ DeFalco. An animal on the court, the 6-foot-4 senior not only dominates in California but on the national volleyball scene, too. Last year, after leading the charge on a successful national championship campaign, DeFalco raked in the awards — including the Off the Block Karch Kiraly Award, All-Big West First Team, Big West Player of the Year, NCAA All-Tournament Team and AVCA First-Team All-America. In short, DeFalco is the Kathryn Plummer of men’s volleyball.
The consumer affairs major has also been on the youth national team circuit since 2013 and has also been an integral part of the USA national team among America’s best players since 2017. He will likely be a starter in the upcoming 2020 Olympics.
DeFalco is just one of five 49er players that prepped at Huntington Beach High School. Huntington Beach is a volleyball power itself, having won three of the last six California Interscholastic Federation Division I state championships. Stanford’s junior outside hitter Eric Beatty, who is out on injury, also attended Huntington Beach.
DeFalco leads Long Beach State in points on the season with 199.0; opposite/outside hitter Kyle Ensing is a close second with 196.5. They average 3.28 and 3.47 kills per set, respectively. Setter Josh Tuaniga also is an important piece in the Long Beach offensive puzzle, averaging 10.6 assists per set and 0.84 kills per set on hitting 0.72.
The 49ers also hold the upper hand from the service line. They average 2.3 aces per set, while the Cardinal average only 1.1. Middle blocker Marc Moody leads Long Beach State in aces per set with 1.5, but DeFalco also has a strong and accurate arm with 0.63 aces per set.
On the defensive side, however, Stanford statistically has a slight upper hand. The Cardinal average 9.1 digs per set, led by redshirt senior libero Kyle Dagostino, who averages 2.02 digs per set. In contrast, Long Beach State averages 7.7 digs per set, led by libero Jordan Molina, who puts up 1.84 digs per set.
Stanford also leads in blocks per set with 2.1, compared to Long Beach’s 1.9. Junior middle blocker Stephen Moye dominates on the Cardinal side of the net with 1.00 blocks per set; Long Beach’s block per set leader is Nick Amado, who has 0.88 blocks per set.
Although unlikely, a win for Stanford would put the Cardinal firmly in the national championship conversation. However, Stanford has not won a game against the 49ers since April 2, 2016 — 1,070 days ago.
First serve will be at 7 p.m. PST this Friday at Walter Pyramid in Long Beach.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.