How high are expectations for the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team this year? Well, the Beach started the year ranked No. 4 in the country in the preseason NCAA rankings and the response from many fans and athletic department staffers was, “Wow, the disrespect.”
Indeed, we could be poised on the brink of another golden age for the program, just a few years removed from its last golden age. The Beach won the last two pre-COVID NCAA titles, in 2019 and 2020, and has had the top-ranked recruiting class in each of the last two cycles.
Head coach Alan Knipe assembled a home schedule that includes matches against No. 1 Hawaii, No. 2 UCLA, No. 4 Penn State, and other big-name programs including Stanford and USC.
The Beach will play 10 of the top 15 teams in the country this year at home or on the road.
“We always schedule aggressively, and we’re trying to send the message of, we’re getting back to as close to normal as possible,” said Knipe. “We want it to be fun and exciting, we want to get big matches, we want to have our fans excited about the schedule.”
Even more exciting than the schedule is the team on the floor for the Beach this year, featuring a pair of returning All-Americans in outside hitter Spencer Olivier and libero Mason Briggs.
“Spencer has come a long way in terms of strength and ability from when he came in here as a freshman and has started to dominate, and Mason is a human highlight reel in terms of effort and energy,” said Knipe.
The Beach will feature their largest team in quite some time, with Big West Freshman of the Year Clark Godbold the smallest starter at the net standing at 6-5. Paired with 6-6 Olivier on the outside is 6-7 Alex Nikolov, a top-tier freshman from Bulgaria who started for the U21 Bulgarian National Team. In the middle are returners Shane Holdaway (6-8), Grant Marocchi (6-7), and Marc Moody (6-8). On the right is Godbold and German native Simon Torwie, who stands at a towering 6-10.
Running the show is setter Aidan Knipe, who is fully recovered from an ankle injury that plagued him last year and that was corrected with a postseason surgery. The early returns on the court were encouraging–in the Fall, the Beach hit in the high .300s against Trinity College from Canada, the top program in that country this year. Long Beach handed the Canadians their only loss on their Southern California swing.
The Beach have no seniors on the roster and are set up to be successful for a long time. Knipe is a coach who doesn’t look too far ahead, though. In fact, he was most excited not about the near future, but the near past.
“We didn’t have a Fall before last season and it was a very strange year,” he said. “It was like coaching a Summer ball all-star team, you talk in generalities. It’s like the Pro Bowl, we’re just running plays that everyone knows…To me, our Fall is everything. It’s not just the reps, it’s the culture and identity you build in the Fall. There’s a lot more ‘Long Beach State volleyball’ happening in our gym right now.”
With a young, healthy roster and their first full offseason in two years, Long Beach State is excited and optimistic for the season, which will open in the Walter Pyramid this Saturday night against Harvard at 7:30 p.m.
“We have a lot of healthy arms and a lot of upside,” said Knipe. “We’re nowhere near to the team we think we can be this year, let alone over the next few years.”