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Long Beach State Volleyball

Long Beach State Volleyball Makes NCAA Tournament, Will Face Grand Canyon

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Things didn’t go to plan for the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team at the Big West Tournament last weekend–when a coach is discussing “RPI” at the postgame press conference that’s usually the case–but the Beach still got good news as they’ve made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid.

Long Beach will be seeded No. 4 in the Tournament and will face No. 5 Grand Canyon in the opening round on Tuesday, May 2 at George Mason University in Virginia. The winner of that match will advance to the Final Four and will face top-seeded UCLA, with Hawaii, Penn State, and Ohio State on the other side of the bracket. 

Long Beach State’s sweep loss to UC Irvine in the Big West tourney ended their hope to claim the conference’s guaranteed bid (claimed by Hawaii after they swept the Anteaters), but head coach Alan Knipe said he didn’t lose too much sleep waiting for Selection Sunday.

“The selection criteria is clearer and more transparent than ever before,” he said. “We were so strong in the criteria points that the only situation that could’ve probably put us in a bad spot was an armageddon of all the top seeds losing. You don’t feel comfortable in that situation, but I felt fairly confident that unless something really out of the norm happened that we’d be fine–and, realistically, probably in the same seed no matter what even if we won the Big West Tournament.”

The Beach have been No. 4 in the NCAA’s RPI rankings virtually all season, and split two matches with No. 2 Hawaii, and also own a win over No. 3 Penn State. They also played top-seeded UCLA twice, and came up short both times.

The Beach came out flat against host UC Irvine in the Big West tourney, but Knipe dismissed the idea that his team didn’t have anything to play for despite their solid position in the NCAA Tournament outlook.

“We went into the match wanting to win and to beat Irvine for the third time in basically a week,” he said. “You’ve got three of the top five teams in the country (in the conference) so it’s a tough order. I think what you saw was maybe the flip side of what Irvine’s mindset was, knowing that their only route was to win out.”

Attention now turns to the NCAA Tournament, with the top four teams all having a pretty legitimate case to make for why they’ll end up on top. Knipe likes the way his team has grown and worked together to help replace the production of last year’s National Player of the Year, Alex Nikolov, who turned pro following his freshman NCAA season with the Beach. This year’s Long Beach squad has been led by first-team All-Big West selections Mason Briggs, Sotiris Siapanis, Simon Torwie, and Spencer Olivier, as well as honorable mention all-conference selections Clarke Godbold, Shane Holdaway, and Aidan Knipe. It’s a sign that the team is balanced and talented that all seven starters received some sort of postseason conference award.

“I feel like I’ve felt all season, we’ve gotten significantly better as the year went on, we continue to push our mindset to be as good as we can possibly be as a unit,” said Knipe. 

Their opponent, Grand Canyon, is the other at-large bid in the tournament, as the relatively new program makes its first NCAA Tournament experience.

“They’re a very talented team, they’re good,” said Knipe. “They serve well, they’ve got a fast-paced offense and a lot of good arms. We haven’t played them in an official match but we’ve played them in our Fall league in Vegas the last two years, I have a lot of respect for them.”

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.