March 22, 2023

During the men’s tournament of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League that is taking place this summer in the United States, eight former and current members of The Big West men’s volleyball teams are competing with the United States national team (VNL).

The squad for the United States men’s national team that will compete in the 2022 Volleyball National League was announced on May 13 by USA Volleyball. This initial group consisted of former Long Beach State standouts TJ DeFalco, Kyle Ensing, and Josh Tuaniga, a legend from the University of Hawaii named Patrick Gasman, former stars from the University of California, Irvine named Kyle Russell and David Smith, and current student-athletes from the Beach named Mason Briggs and Spencer Olivier.

Each week, 14 players from the list of 25 are selected to be on the team’s travel roster. Team USA opened the VNL Preliminary Round in Brasilia, Brazil, on June 7-11, going 4-0 to defeat Slovenia (3-0), the Netherlands (3-0), and Japan (3-2). On Saturday, June 11, after coming back from a 1-0 hole, Team USA defeated host and world No. 1 Brazil by a score of 3-1. These competitions were attended by Briggs, Ensing, Gasman, Smith, and Tuaniga respectively.

This week, the first-place United States team will compete in four matches in Sofia, Bulgaria, against Serbia (2-2), Iran (2-2), Bulgaria (0-4) and Poland (3-1), from June 22-26. Included in the 14-man group are names like DeFalco, Ensing, Russell, Smith, and Tuaniga. Tuaniga has 129 “successful” sets, which places her third among all VNL setters. Russell, who plays opposite position, was a member of Team USA that competed in the 2019 VNL and NORCECA Championship.

Eight players on the roster return from the team that competed in the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, including DeFalco, Ensing, and Smith. The next Olympic Games will be held in 2022. Additionally, Russell and Tuaniga have previous experience working for VNL. New to the VNL are Briggs, Gasman, and Olivier; among these seven, Briggs and Olivier are two of the six who intend to go back to school in the fall.

Since the Big West League only started sponsoring men’s volleyball in 2018, Gasman is the only player to have been selected to the All-Big West First Team on four separate occasions (2018-21). As a sixth-year senior middle blocker for the Rainbow Warriors in the year 2021, he was an essential figure in the team’s run to victory in the NCAA Championship Tournament.

In addition, DeFalco, Ensing, and Tuaniga were all named to the first team in both 2018 and 2019, with Ensing being named the Big West Player of the Year in 2019, and DeFalco being named the very first Player of the Year in 2018. Tuaniga was selected as the Division I-II National Player of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) in 2018, with DeFalco receiving the honor in 2017 and 2019. This exceptional trio, all of whom hail from Southern California, was the driving force behind Long Beach State’s back-to-back national championships in 2018 and 2019.

Both Briggs and Olivier played for the Long Beach State team that won the 2022 Big West regular season, finished in second place in the 2022 Big West Championship, and came in second place at the national level. As a libero, Briggs was selected for the All-Big West First Team, while Olivier was recognized for honorable mention.

In the year 2021, those honors were revoked. Each athlete also received an honorable mention in the year 2020, with Briggs being chosen as the co-freshman of the year for The Big West. Olivier sat out the 2018 season as the Beach won the championship, but he played in four games the following year when the Beach successfully defended their title.

Smith was a student at UC Irvine between the years of 2004 and 2007, leading the Anteaters to a national championship as a senior before going on to win a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Russell was a member of the ‘Eaters from 2012 until 2016, and he won the national championship as a redshirt freshman in 2013 and as a redshirt in 2012.

After the conclusion of the competition for this week, Team USA will travel to Osaka, Japan, from July 4 through July 9. The men’s VNL Final Round will take place in Bologna, Italy, from the 20th to the 24th of July. will broadcast each and every match.

The team is being coached for the tenth year by John Speraw, who was previously the head coach at UC Irvine and moved back to his alma mater after leading UC Irvine to national titles in 2007, 2009, and 2012. As a result of their play in Brazil, the men’s U.S. team has moved up the rankings to take the sixth slot in the world. They came in eighth place in the 2021 VNL, and they were in second place in 2019.

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