As his team was in Canada playing some preseason matches, Long Beach State men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe had a funny realization.
“Looking out at the court, there were some rotations where not a single guy out there played a point last year,” said Knipe with a laugh.
The problem with that from Knipe’s perspective, of course, is that the last two seasons were the most successful campaigns in the history of the program. The Beach went a combined 56-3 with a pair of NCAA titles, with two National Players of the Year and five All-Americans, all but one of whom have departed.
The national polls have had the Beach somewhere in the four-to-five range, expected to compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but not much more. Knipe is excited about the young group that he has, but he’s certainly not beating his chest about a three-peat.
“Look, there’s no way to replace a TJ DeFalco, a Josh Tuaniga, a Kyle Ensing,” he said. “We’re not asking anyone to do that. We’re asking our guys to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.”
So far, so good. Long Beach State is ranked No. 5 in the nation in this week’s NCAA poll and is off to a 3-0 start. The Beach will host USC this Friday at 7 p.m. in the Walter Pyramid to kick off the home part of what feels like a very “in between” kind of season. The team only has nine home matches this year, the result of a lot of two-year home and homes with teams wanting to play in the Pyramid last year as an NCAA Tournament preview.
The roster is also in transition, with a major recruiting class coming in next season.
This year’s team has beaten Benedictine, McKendree, and Concordia but will see stiffer competition in its next three matches against the Trojans, Pepperdine, and UCLA, all in the Pyramid.
Carlos Rivera is the team’s setter, a talented junior from Puerto Rico who saw sparing time behind Tuaniga. Rivera has the Beach offense running at a .315 clip through three matches this year. His best options have been Spencer Olivier (who leads the team in kills) and Ethan Siegfried, as well as middle blocker Simon Anderson.
In a clear signal of what an interesting year it will be for the Beach, the breakout star of the team so far has been freshman libero Mason Briggs, who is averaging 2.5 digs per set and making some acrobatic plays. Anderson, the lone returning major contributor from the national championships, looks primed for a major year as well as a junior.
Knipe isn’t ready to look down the road to Big West play (where Hawaii will be favored) or the NCAA Tournament yet, but he was willing to acknowledge he’s excited about the class that’s coming in next year.
“There’s a lot of really good players in that class who will come in and compete right away,” he said.
The Beach has signed arguably the two top players in the class in outside hitters Clark Godbold and Sebastian Rodriguez, as well as Long Beach Poly middle blocker Matt Iamaleava. Those three, along with German opposite Simon Torwie, who stands 6-foot-10, will make a formidable core on day one.