Previewing The MPSF Semifinals: Long Beach State vs. UC Irvine
Long Beach State, host of the MPSF semifinals and final, is 2-0 against four-time national champion UC Irvine so far this year, but these elite-level teams know not to take anything for granted in the postseason. Especially not in the uber-competitive MPSF conference.
The 49ers rank first in the latest national rankings and earned the top seed in the MPSF tournament with a 16-2 record. Sophomore setter Josh Tuaniga, who leads the country with 11.26 assists per set, runs a balanced offense, dishing sets to his three very capable pin hitters and making sure the middles take their swings as well.
Long Beach outside hitter TJ DeFalco leads his team with 385 kills and hits .398, a percentage that ranks eighth in the country--first for non-middles. Right side Kyle Ensing (313 kills, .327) is also a major contributor for the 49ers, ranking in the top 50 nationally for blocks per set in addition to his offensive efforts.
Across the net, it's UC Irvine's trio of international pin hitters running the show, with Australian opposite Thomas Hodges, French outside Aaron Koubi, and Israeli outside Tamir Hershko. Setter Michael Saeta adds to the offensive effort from behind the service line, averaging .60 aces per set, the best in the nation.
Where the matchup between these two teams gets really interesting is at the net. Long Beach middle blocker Amir Lugo-Rodriguez leads the country in blocks per set with 1.27, while UC Irvine's 7-foot freshman sensation Scott Stadick clocks in at fourth with 1.21 per set. Stadick also boasts the seventh-best hitting percentage in the country (.422).
There will be plenty of exciting defensive plays to watch in this semifinal match, as well. Long Beach libero Andrew Sato ranks sixth nationally with 2.53 digs per set, and UCI libero Dillon Hoffman is 10th with 2.40. Hoffman also ranks in the top 50 nationally in assists per set.
Long Beach has won both head-to-head matches against UC Irvine so far this year--in straight sets on February 10 and in four on March 1.
The first serve launches at 7:30 PM PT on Thursday, April 20. Watch the match LIVE, only on FloVolleyball.
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