The UCLA men’s volleyball team’s biggest adjustment during the season had nothing to do with Xs and Os or its opponents.

“We decided to get back to the basics of understanding our team culture and who we really wanted to be as a team and how we wanted to be known,” Bruins coach John Speraw said.

With one of the game’s greatest coaching minds at the helm, the Bruins went on a postseason run that included avenging an earlier loss in the MPSF championship match to BYU and ended with a tough five-set loss to Long Beach State in the NCAA final on their home floor at Pauley Pavilion.

John Speraw-Coach of the Year-men's all-americans
John Speraw led his UCLA Bruins to the title match/Ed Chan,

For his work with UCLA this season, Speraw is the 2018 men’s college coach of the year. He joins Long Beach State’s TJ DeFalco and Josh Tuaniga (co-players of the year) and BYU’s Gabi Garcia-Fernandez (freshman of the year) as our top men’s collegiate honorees.

“Speraw’s knowledge of the game is pretty unbelievable,” said UCLA junior outside hitter Dylan Missry. “He has a way of creating a system that is super-consistent and that led us to play at a really high level at the end of the year.”

UCLA junior setter Micah Ma’a said Speraw’s gifts span far beyond the volleyball court.

“I don’t even know where to start,” he said. “When I think about him I think about his intelligence in volleyball and in life. He’s one of the smartest guys I ever talked to. I’ve had a lot of good conversations with him. I think about the sacrifice he makes with two young girls at home, driving up from Orange County every day. He’s here late at night every night. He’s made a big sacrifice with himself and his family to be here with us. There’s something really special about him.”

Speraw, who won three NCAA titles as the coach at UC Irvine before returning to his alma mater, is also the USA national-team coach.

Missry said the fact that Speraw has been on the national-championship stage many times (he’s the only individual in men’s collegiate volleyball to win a NCAA title as a head coach, assistant coach and player and has been part of eight NCAA title teams in those roles), was a huge factor for the Bruins as they made their playoff run this season.

“Guaranteed,” he said. “None of us had played in a national-championship match before. We relied on Speraw because he’s been in quite a few of them. It was comforting to know that the stuff he says is so valuable. He’s been there before. He’s been in that position.”

Ma’a said one can’t help to be excited when Speraw is in the gym.

“Think about his experience and how much he has gone through,” he said. “In person or on the computer he has watched and learned so much throughout the year. He has this passion. He’s excited to come in the gym every day and work on something new. Nobody is more excited to be there every day than he is.”

UCLA made its first NCAA title match since 2006.

“I think I played a role in wanting to put some things in place that would help the guys understand how to communicate with each other better,” Speraw said. “I empowered some of our team leaders to take a much more vocal role and when that happened I thought this team really accelerated. We doubled down on that the last third of the season. We had a bunch of guys with high volleyball IQs and high EQs, meaning emotionally intelligent. Emotionally intelligent guys can motivate people.”

Speraw saw his squad put all the pieces together at exactly the right time earlier this month.

“They had the best experience they had not because they won, but because they loved each other,” said Speraw. “You could see that in the way they played and it showed in their performance at the end. I’m sorry they didn’t score a couple more points in the fourth set against Long Beach. That’s how much they were deserving of a championship. They improved more during the season than any championship team I coached. This was not a team that was as put-together as other teams in the final four. They had a wonderful journey and a great playoff run.

“It wasn’t pretty at any point, but our guys never got discouraged. They kept their focus and got better and they saw where that took them. It took them pretty far.”

TallSlim Tees-men's all Americans Long Beach State duo share top player honor: Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe said this about trying choose between TJ DeFalco and Josh Tuaniga as the nation’s top player.

“It is really hard to split hairs,” he said. “They both were amazing this year.”

That they were.

DeFalco and Tuaniga were two key factors in the 49ers finishing the season NCAA champions.

Outside hitter DeFalco, a former boys’ high-school player of the year, hit .377, while registering 366 kills (3.62 per set). He was especially key in the NCAA tournament where he had 16 kills and hit .361 in the semifinals against Ohio State and followed that up with 18 kills and 12 digs, while hitting .419 in the final against UCLA that helped the 49ers win their second NCAA crown in program history. The other was the 1991 team that included Knipe.

Tuaniga was the Big West Conference tournament MVP and the MVP of the NCAA tournament. He directed the 49ers to a .375 hitting percentage as five players had more than 100 kills each, including team-leaders DeFalco (366 kills) and 6-7 junior Kyle Ensing (355 kills). DeFalco and Ensing joined Tuaniga on the NCAA all-tournament team.

men's all-americans-Gabi Garcia Fernandez-BYU
BYU opposite Gabi Garcia Fernandez is 2018 Tees freshman of the year/Ed Chan,

Garcia-Fernandez named top freshman: chronicled current BYU freshman Gabi Garcia-Fernandez’s high-school and prep career last year.

A year later, Garcia-Fernandez is back in the spotlight as the nation’s top freshman after making an immediate impact for the BYU men’s team that qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Garcia-Fernandez was here, there and everywhere on the court for the Cougars. He played in a team-high 111 sets and finished with 387 kills on a team-high 807 swings (3.47 kills per set). He also topped the BYU charts in service aces (51), digs (150) and total blocks (90).

Co-Players of the Year: TJ DeFalco and Josh Tuaniga (Long Beach State)
Freshman of the Year: Gabi Garcia-Fernandez (BYU)
Coach of the Year: John Speraw (UCLA)
First-Team All-Americans
Karl Apfelbach
UC Irvine
Height: 6-8
Position: Right Side
Year: Junior
Notable: Apfelbach went from a combined 141 kills his first two years at Irvine to 448 this season, while hitting .307.
TJ DeFalco
School: Long Beach State
Height: 6-4
Position: OH
Year: Junior
Notable: 2018 co-player of the year helped Long Beach State win the NCAA men’s title. The Big West player of the year totaled 366 kills (3.62 per set), hit .377 and averaged 1.89 digs per set.
Daenan Gyimah
Height: 6-8
Position: Middle Blocker
Year: Sophomore
Notable: Canadian product led the nation in hitting percentage at .528 and is the first Bruin in the rally-scoring era to hit above .500 since 2001. His 151 total blocks are second all-time in UCLA single-season rally-scoring-era.
Jeff Jendryk
Height: 6-10
Position: MB
Year: Senior
Notable: A repeat first-team All-American selection, Jendryk hit .457 with 247 kills, while also registering 96 total blocks.
Micah Ma’a
School: UCLA
Height: 6-3
Position: Setter
Year: Junior
Notable: Helped lead Bruins to NCAA runner-up finish by averaging 10.55 assists per set and tying the school single-season record in the rally-scoring era with 56 aces.
Brenden Sander
Height: 6-4
Position: Outside Hitter
Year: Senior
Notable: Sander’s 367 kills (3.40 per set) and .313 hitting percentage helped BYU to a 22-win season and a No. 3 final national ranking.
Scott Stadick
UC Irvine
Height: 7-0
Position: Middle Blocker
Year: Sophomore
Notable: Followed up a strong freshman campaign by registering 253 kills, hitting .422 and recording 30 block solos and 130 block assists for the Anteaters.
Nicolas Szerszen
School: Ohio State
Height: 6-4
Position: OH
Year: Senior
Notable: MIVA player of the year wrapped up his Buckeyes career by putting away 406 kills (3.76 per set) and hitting a robust .388.
Josh Tuaniga
School: Long Beach State
Height: 6-3
Position: Setter
Year: Junior
Notable: 2018 co-player of the year averaged 10.43 assists per set for the 28-1 49’ers.
Larry Tuileta
Height: 6-2
Position: Libero
Year: Senior
Notable: All-Big West first-team pick averaged 2.30 digs per set and had only 32 reception errors in 557 attempts for Rainbow Warriors.
Stijn Van Tilburg
School: Hawai’i
Height: 6-8
Position: Outside Hitter
Year: Junior
Notable: Put down a team-high 322 kills (3.93 per set) and hit .328 from his left-side position.
David Wieczorek
Height: 6-8
Position: Outside Hitter
Year: Redshirt-Junior
Notable: MPSF player of the year averaged 4.0 kills per set (296 total kills) and hit .349, while also averaging 1.22 digs per set.
Gabi Garcia Fernandez-Freshman of the Year-men's all-americans-BYU-Cougars
BYU’s Gabi Garcia Fernandez hits a jump serve/Ed Chan,
Name                            Ht.       Pos.     Year                 School
Nick Amado                   6-6       MB       Jr.                   Long Beach State
Jake Arnitz                     6-7       OH       Sr.                   UCLA
Ryan Coenen                6-9       RS        RS-Soph.         Lewis
Leo Durkin                     6-4       S          Sr.                   BYU
Evan Enriques               6-2       Libero   Sr.                   Stanford
Kyle Ensing                    6-7       RS        Jr.                    Long Beach State
Gabi Garcia Fernandez  6-7       RS        Fresh.              BYU
Arvis Greene                  6-7       RS        Sr.                   CSUN
Maxime Hervoir              6-3       OH       Sr.                    Ohio State
Aaron Koubi                   6-5       Sr.        OH                   UC Irvine
Brian Negron                 6-7       RS-S     Sr.                    George Mason
Joe Worsley                   6-0       S          Jr.                    Hawai’i
Honorable Mention
Kyle Barnes (6-4, Jr., OH, George Mason), Eric Chance (6-8, Jr., MB, CSUN),  Corey Chavers (6-4, Jr., OH, UC Santa Barbara), Patrick Gasman (6-10, Soph., MB, Hawai’i), Ricky Gevis (6-11, Sr., RS, Loyola), Brad Gretsch (6-6, Sr., MB-OH, Harvard), Christian Hessenauer (6-5, Sr., RS, UCLA), Hunter Howell (6-7, Jr., MB, Concordia-Irvine), George Huhmann (6-11, Soph., RS-MB, Princeton), Price Jarman (6-9, Sr., MB, BYU), Jaylen Jasper (6-7, Fresh., RS, Stanford), Dimitar Kalchev (6-4, Jr., OH, CSUN), Marko Kostich (6-5, Sr., S, Harvard), Collin Mahan (6-5, Jr., OH, Loyola), Angelos Mandilaris (6-6, Soph., OH, Barton College), Matthew McLaren (6-4, RS, Jr.,  OH, Penn State), Calvin Mende (6-11, RS-Soph., RS, Penn State), Michael Simmons (6-4, Jr., Libero, Lewis), Tanner Syftestad (6-8, Sr., RS, UC San Diego), Sanil Thomas (6-0, Jr., S, Ohio State), Hayden Wagner (6-6, Soph., RS, George Mason), Matt Walsh (6-11, Sr., MB, Ball State), Jack Wyett (6-5, Jr., OH, USC), Garrett Zolg (6-3, Fresh., S, Loyola),

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