Long Beach has long had a special place in the volleyball world but this spring has seen the city become the center of the volleyball universe.
The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team is the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation, the NCAA’s only undefeated team, and has swept every team 14 of their 17 matches this year, only dropping a set to UCLA (twice) and NJIT. The 49ers’ 17-0 start to the season is the best start in the program’s history.
The LBCC men’s volleyball team is also undefeated at 13-0, the unanimous No. 1 team in California in the CCCAA rankings, and has dropped just three sets all season.
Outdoors, the story is basically the same. The LBCC beach volleyball team, coached by Long Beach State legend and three-time Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor, is ranked No. 1 in California and is 8-1, with their only loss coming to CSUN, an NCAA program. The LBSU beach team is No. 8 in the nation.
“I think it’s great,” said 49er men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe. “I’ve always said whether here or when I was coaching the national team, the Long Beach community is a volleyball community, they’re knowledgeable and they know the sport.”
The Long Beach State and Long Beach City coaches have been rooting each other on from afar, although they do share some links on the floor as well, with the 49ers’ starting libero, Jordan Molina, having come from LBCC along with one of the team’s reserve setters, Gary Trejo.
“It’s great what Jon is doing over there and it doesn’t surprise me,” said Knipe.
“Jordan is playing well over there and their assistant coach Nick MacRae is a Vikings as well, we’re very excited for all those guys, we love the Long Beach volleyball community,” said Vikings coach Jonathan Charette.
Knipe’s point about the Long Beach volleyball audience is a valid one. He saw record crowds with the national team when he brought them to play in the Pyramid, and fans have been turning out in droves this year. The 49ers set their program attendance record against UCLA with 4,200 fans in the Pyramid, and there’s never any seats left in LBCC’s volleyball gym when the Vikings are at home.
“People don’t just say great game when you bump into them, they know the sport well enough to talk to you about it,” said Knipe. “Our fans, LBCC’s fans are educated fans, we’ve got to keep putting out a great product. We want that bar held high for us.”
As good as the teams are, the individual players are pretty amazing, too. LBSU’s TJ DeFalco is the reigning National Player of the Year and has been a member of the national team since shortly after he graduated high school
Some dates to keep in mind for local volleyball fans, with this spring shaping up to be a special one: Long Beach State will host the first-ever Big West Tournament April 19-21 and the NCAA championships will be at UCLA May 3-5. The CCCAA junior college state championship tournament will be April 26-28 at Fullerton College.
The future looks bright too, by the way: the Lakewood and St. Anthony boys’ volleyball high school teams are ranked No. 2 and No. 7 in CIF, as well.