It was an impressive opening weekend for the No. 10 Long Beach State men’s volleyball team, which is starting its season several weeks later than most other nationally ranked programs (every other team in the top 15 had played at least six matches prior to this weekend). The Beach were able to get into rhythm quickly and earn a split with No. 3 UCSB, signaling that Long Beach State will absolutely compete for an NCAA Tournament bid this season. The Beach fell in four sets at UCSB on Saturday then defeated the Gauchos in four in the Walter Pyramid Sunday evening, 23-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-21.
“I was so proud of our guys’ response to come home and want to compete, we didn’t have any time to train obviously and it was all execution by them and a lot of grit,” said head coach Alan Knipe. “It’s borderline emotional to be back, all these guys had huge grins on their faces in our first practice back. They can’t tell that the coaches are smiling too because we’re wearing masks but they are, believe me.”
Sunday’s performance saw impressive efforts from a number of players including Spencer Olivier, who had career highs in kills and digs in a double-double effort, with 16 kills, 17 digs, five blocks, and two assists. The redshirt sophomore said that the team did everything they could to hang together during the year when they weren’t allowed to officially practice.
“It’s been a crazy year of course with all the COVID protocols, but I think the guys did a great job at being able to do what they can do, whether it be self-tossing at home or just getting reps on the beach or something,” said Olivier.
Knipe and Olivier both acknowledged that it was odd seeing an empty Walter Pyramid, especially as the team has drawn large, raucous crowds the last few years during their national championship runs.
“Nothing beats playing in the Pyramid with a full crowd, it really gets that adrenaline going,” said Olivier. “We managed to keep it together, we kept the energy with ourselves and we gave each other energy to keep playing well.”
“Collegiate sports are always way better with fans, at any arena, but the Pyramid with the nation’s best fans is a big deal,” said Knipe. “We miss them very much and we want to see them back in here as soon as possible, not just as cutouts.”
The Beach outblocked the Gauchos 12.5 to 5.5 and got big performances from senior Simon Anderson (11 kills, six blocks), Shane Holdaway (12 kills), as well as freshmen Simon Torwie (11 kills, three blocks) and Clarke Godbold (13 kills, 13 digs, two blocks).
Long Beach State (1-1) will return to action in the Pyramid this Friday at 4 p.m. against UC Irvine and then travel to the Anteaters on Saturday at 4 p.m.