Bjaarn Huus
Long Beach State

International Players Hoping For National Championship At Long Beach State

There are about 2,700 international students enrolled at Long Beach State, studying a variety of subjects. Two of them, Bjarne Huus and Simon Anderson, are trying to help the school’s men’s volleyball team win a national championship this week.

Huus and Anderson are not your typical “fish out of water” stories. Both have thrived since arriving in Southern California, as both volleyball players and students.

“They might speak better English than me,” said Knipe. “They’re both doing extremely well in school and they have a maturity we don’t see a ton with 18 year olds.”

There are five international players on the roster for the top-ranked men’s volleyball team, which has an NCAA Final Four match against Ohio State at 5 p.m. on Thursday evening at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. In addition to Huus (Norway) and Anderson (Denmark), the 49ers have Ryan Poole from England, Alexander Anastassiades from Cyprus via Huntington Beach, and Carlos Rivera from Puerto Rico via Newport Harbor High.

Huus and Anderson are the cream of the crop, though, among the best players anywhere. Huus is a senior outside hitter who was named to the All-Big West honorable mention team; Anderson is a freshman middle blocker who earned honorable mention All-American honors after a breakout campaign.

The two players took very different routes to Long Beach, although they crossed the same ocean.

Huus knew he wanted to come to school in America and because he’s interested in a beach career, he knew he wanted to go to a coastal college. The one with “beach” in the name of the university jumped out, and he literally emailed a mixtape of his highlights to the Long Beach State coaching staff. After more contact and a visit, he was in.

He’s been able to spend summers and Christmases back in his hometown in Norway, but likes a lot of things about Long Beach better.

“Well it rains 200 days a year in my hometown,” he said. “The first year I was in Long Beach was for a drought and I could not believe how little rain there was.”

Anderson’s father is a professor who teaches in America for stretches, so he actually lived in Berkeley from the ages of four through six. He’s also used to leaving home because he departed his hometown of Middlefart, Denmark to live at a high school that offered volleyball.

“My parents have always been really supportive of me and of me playing volleyball,” he said. “It was hard for my mom that I was leaving without knowing how to cook, but I figured it out.”

Coming to America as a high school graduate was still a big step, but Anderson has handled it smoothly. His father, Jorgen, is teaching mathematics at CalTech this spring and has been able to come see Simon play several times.

Both Huus and Anderson agree that the biggest adjustment they had to make to Southern California was in adjusting to how extroverted people are.

“Everyone is really shy in Norway,” said Huus. “Here people talk to you, they’re smiling.”

As far as a language barrier: not so much. Knipe likes to joke that the two of them might have the best test scores in English on the whole team.

“In Europe everyone speaks different languages and English is the one in common,” said Anderson. “So we started learning it at a young age in Denmark.”

“In first grade, in elementary school I was learning English,” said Huus.

Both players are integrated well into the team, and because they communicate fluently there’s no major cultural gap between them. In fact, Knipe said it’s rare to hear them speak their native tongues in the gym.

“The only time you can really feel their culture is if you do something they don’t like they talk to themselves in Norwegian or Danish,” he said with a laugh. “Then you know they’re bringing their culture into your program.”

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.