After a canceled 2020 season and months of waiting for answers, the two-time defending national champion Long Beach State men’s volleyball team will officially get a chance to defend its crown. The team released its schedule this week, which will be a 10-game Big West conference slate, with the Big West Tournament and potentially the NCAA Tournament looming at the tail end.
“We’re getting a late start, us and CSUN are the last two teams in the nation to start practice,” said LBSU men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe. “We’re appreciative of our administration and our president for dealing with the red tape and regulations to get us back there. They fought for us.”
Knipe had expressed frustration over the last month as UCLA and USC, two other Los Angeles County schools, were given permission to begin practicing and even playing competitive matches while the two-time defending champs were still sitting on their hands waiting for word. The team wasn’t allowed to meet in person or train together, but Knipe said that many of his players spent the break finding gym time to get work in together.
“I’m so proud of everything they’ve done in the last 12 months of staying invested,” he said. “Talk about LB grit. I couldn’t be prouder than I am of this group. The training, the sacrifices, giving up jobs because they didn’t want to affect their cohort. They’ve turned frustration into determination. Seeing all their smiles in the gym when they came in meant a lot to me.”
The Beach will open its schedule on the road at UCSB on March 20, then will host the Gauchos the next night in their home opener. The season will consist of back-to-back Friday/Saturday contests against UCSB, UC Irvine, Hawaii, UC San Diego, and CSUN, with that final match taking place April 17.
The Big West Tournament will take place in Hawaii, with the NCAA Tourney hosted by Ohio State should the Beach advance. It’s going to be an interesting season for Long Beach jumping in so late, but the Beach were 10-1 when the season was shut down last year and has since added the top recruiting class in the country.
The Beach will enter this season ranked No. 6 in the nation, the only team in the top 10 to have not played a match yet. Still, Knipe said his focus has been on the positives of having some certainty around a season.
“It’s really important for our guys,” he said. “It’s been very emotionally taxing, there’s been a lot of disappointment, goalposts changing. They’ve been hopeful then they get let down. To have some clarity and the ability to meet is a big deal. We’re not talking life or death, we’re talking sports–but it does matter. Guys are here because they want to be Olympians and professionals. It’s easy to say ‘it’s only sports,’ but it’s their passion and their live, and it’s also the career that they want.”