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The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team looked every bit of a national championship contender on Friday night in the Walter Pyramid, in an impressive sweep of No. 10 UCSD. The Beach struggled to get in rhythm in the first set but won it in extra points before settling in and sweeping the Tritons, 31-29, 25-18, 25-12.
“There were a lot of good things to the match, although it took us a little bit to get to get going,” said Beach coach Alan Knipe. “Once we got out of that first set I thought we did a nice job starting to play our volleyball. Now we’ve got to flip it, go down there and clean it up, we know we’re going to get their best down there tomorrow night.”
The Beach are alone in first place in the Big West, a match clear of second-place UC Santa Barbra, with the Gauchos in Hawaii this weekend for a pair of matches. Long Beach will rematch with the Tritons on Saturday evening at 7 p.m.
The story Friday was the continued emergence of 6-10 middle blocker Simon Torwie, as the sophomore starred with eight kills on 11 swings and seven blocks, along with an ace. Torwie, who came to Long Beach State as a right-side hitter, has found his spot in the lineup at middle lately and has made the most of it.
“The support system around me is a huge help, it’s really not just me,” said Torwie. “There’s a lot of differences in blocking and in hitting, so you’re dependent on feedback from people around you because most of the things you have to change, you don’t know them. I’m really lucky that we have coaches who’ve played middle in our system and setters who know how to play with me.”
Long Beach State hit .391 in the match and continue to run one of the most efficient offenses in the nation under setter Aidan Knipe; the team hit .608 on balls that he set. Knipe said having the middle of the court going is helping to open things up for the Beach’s three excellent pin hitters: Alex Nikolov (13 kills on .667 hitting), Spencer Olivier (11 kills on .350) and Clarke Godbold (six kills).
“When our passing is rocking like it was and I’m able to get a lot of middle attempts, especially to someone like Simon, it opens up (the back row), Clarke, Alex and Spencer,” said Knipe. “It opens us up to run whatever’s most successful in the moment. We’ve come really far this season but there’s a lot of meat on the bone still.”
Already a remarkably complete team (they blocked 14 balls in three sets while also hitting almost .400), the Beach is also now getting big contributions from service subs. Calvin Sanborn came in and served nine times, with three of them finding the ground for an ace. The service sub is a unique role in sports, and one of the hardest mentally—after extended periods on the bench, running in for a play that might only take seconds.
“It’s very difficult, it just doesn’t happen that you run out of the bullpen to throw one pitch, or your caddy hands you a club for one swing on a golf course,” said Alan Knipe.
Sanborn’s serve was difficult for the Tritons to pick up, with late movement.
“I just always try to stay prepared throughout the match, “ said Sanborn. “Stay loose and warm, bringing some energy into the bench. It’s great bringing it from the bench onto the actual court, I’m just trying to fire my guys up and do my job.”
The Beach (17-3, 6-1) will return to action at UCSD tomorrow night, then host CSUN next Friday looking to potentially clinch a conference title.