There’s good news and bad news for the two-time defending NCAA champion Long Beach State men’s volleyball team as they prepare to open their 2021 season this weekend against UC Santa Barbara. The good news is that the Beach are one of only two undefeated teams in the NCAA Top 15 that hasn’t lost a match. The bad news is, they’re also the only team in the rankings that hasn’t played a match.
Despite their perch atop the college men’s volleyball world, the Beach were the last team in the nation to begin practicing and playing, and the other teams in the nation’s elite have played between six and 14 matches as the Beach prepares to take the floor for the first time.
“We normally have a very long lead-in to our season and this is going to be a very fast ramp-up and right into it,” said head coach Alan Knipe, who dismissed any talk of his squad as the two-time defending champs. “We’re not using anything as an excuse. The reality is we started training in late February with matches in March and a Final Four in May. That’s very unique, and it is what it is. Our goal has to be that we get better every day and that we’re ready for the conference tournament and playing our best volleyball that we’re capable of.”
Knipe said he was inspired his by his team’s regiment this offseason. While the Beach coaches were prohibited from in-person contact or direction, the team’s players took it upon themselves to find gym time to work out together, often in informal scrimmages against other programs.
“They did everything they could under different county rules,” said Knipe. “It was incredible leadership and team camaraderie that came out of it–they had to find gyms, they had to organize it. I hope the community and university sees how much this means to them, how much they were willing to put into it.”
The team that takes the court will have to replace senior setter Carlos Rivera, who decided not to come back for an extra year of eligibility after last year’s midseason shutdown. Knipe’s son, redshirt freshman Aidan Knipe, will be running the floor with a mix of returners from last season, as well as some of the star’s from this year’s recruiting class, ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The best-known names are returning All-Americans Simon Anderson and Shane Holdaway in the middle, along with returning Big West Freshman of the Year Mason Briggs at libero. Briggs is a rare show-stopper at the libero position and will be a great backstop for a team with great depth along the net.
The outside is loaded with Spencer Oliver and Ethan Siegfried, and at opposite the team has newcomer studs Clarke Godbold and 6-foot-10 Simon Torwie. Godbold can also play outside, where the team has great depth with Nate Harlan, Ryan Poole, and Sebastian Rodriguez.
“We love the group, and their commitment and their energy,” said Knipe, who said his team has had its highest-ever GPA the last two semesters. “It shows you why they came to Long Beach. To play and get an education, yes, but it’s not just athletics to them. They want to be Olympians and professionals. This is their passion.”
The Beach will travel to UCSB Saturday for their first match then host the Gauchos at 4 p.m. on Sunday. They’ll play weekend back-to-backs in conference with Irvine, Hawaii, UCSD, and CSUN before traveling to the islands for the Big West Tournament in Hawaii April 22-24, hoping to qualify for the NCAA Tournament at Ohio State May 6-8.