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There are seasons whose calendar year numbers are lit up in bright lights, and the 2024 season was always going to be one of those years for the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team. A month into the season, the Beach is currently the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation, boast a 9-0 record, and just saw their head coach Alan Knipe become the first in program history to win his 400th match.
As auspicious as the start has been, the ending could be even better. The Walter Pyramid will play host to this year’s NCAA Tournament in May, where the Beach hope to win another national title on their home floor after doing it in 2019.
There will be familiar faces all over the gym for the Beach, with redshirt senior Aidan Knipe setting, senior libero Mason Briggs, senior Clarke Godbold outside with junior Sotiris Siapanis, and senior 6-10 middle blocker Simon Torwie. All five of those players have received All-American honors, and they form the most talented and experienced core in the country–one that’s missing just one thing from their resume.
“With this core that we’ve had we have two Final Four appearances, one in the national championship and one in the FInal Four, and those didn’t end up going our way,” said Aidan Knipe. “We have a lot of depth in the gym that pushes us every day. We have 31 guys on the team and they can all play. So in our practice gym every day is competition equal to what we play against, which will really push us.”
The team is so deep that even some of its role players are familiar faces, like fifth-year senior Nathan Harlan who’s been an absolutely nails service sub the last few years. There will be a couple of new names on the court, both of whom have made a big impact early.
Freshman middle blocker Lazar Bouchkov is a defensive force and also a big emotional player in the role of a Nick Amado. Bouchkov is from the same town in Bulgaria that former LBSU National Player of the Year Alex Nikolov grew up in, as the unlikely Sofia, Bulgaria to Long Beach, CA pipeline continues to produce gold for the Beach.
Bouchkov has already won Big West Defensive Player of the Week twice and was the AVCA National Player of the Week after putting up 18 blocks in back-to-back sweeps of Pepperdine and Concordia earlier this year.
The other new face is sophomore Skyler Varga, a Saskatchewan native who’s been good enough on the right to let Godbold slide to outside. Varga boasts a lot of the same skills as Kyle Ensing, who helped anchor the Beach’s attack during their 2018/19 national title runs.
Briggs is a libero worth the price of admission, and said he’s loving playing with this team so far.
“I think you can see how close we are with each other, we love playing with each other,” said Briggs. “It’s my last year but it’s going to be really, really exciting.”
The Beach have certainly been exciting thus far, but there’s no doubt that the season will start getting a lot more competitive this week. Of the Beach’s nine wins so far, no opponent is ranked higher than No. 12 Pepperdine. Coming up the Beach host No. 4 UCLA on Friday (then visit the Bruins Saturday), host No. 9 Penn State March 1, two matches against No. 3 Hawaii on March 15 and 16, and face No. 7 UC Irvine in their regular season finale weekend April 12 and 13.
Then there’s the Big West Tournament in Hawaii April 18-20 and, of course, the NCAA Tournament in the Pyramid April 30-May 4. The Beach will be hosting, and, they hope, playing for another shot at history.
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