Long Beach State Volleyball

Long Beach State Wins Big West Championship On Senior Night

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The No. 1-ranked Long Beach State men’s volleyball team knew that they would have an emotional Senior Night ceremony after their regular season finale Saturday night in the Walter Pyramid against UC Irvine. The only question was, would it be a celebration or a frustrating night? The Beach had been swept by the Anteaters the night before in Irvine, making Saturday’s contest a true championship bout. The Beach put on one of their best displays of the year in a dominating sweep, 27-25, 25-21, 25-17.

The win gives them sole possession of their third consecutive Big West regular season championship, and the top seed into next week’s conference tournament in Hawaii. After that? The Beach (23-2, 9-1) will host the NCAA Tournament in the Pyramid April 30-May 4. But Saturday was about closing the regular season the right way: with a trophy.

“Last night they served really well and we didn’t pass well, when we did pass well we didn’t serve well,” said LBSU coach Alan Knipe. “We had no chance to get momentum going. I thought we were great with that tonight.”

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The Beach outhit the Anteaters .431 to .359 and outblocked them 8.5 to 6. Long Beach got 13 kills from Sotiris Siapanis, nine from SKyler Varga, seven from Clarke Godbold, and five from DiAeris McRaven. Simon Torwie had four kills and five blocks, and the Beach were the recipient of 18 service errors by the Anteaters.

After the win in front of more than 4,000 fans, the Beach honored a large senior class that includes setter Aidan Knipe (who reached 3,000 career assists on the last point of the match), libero Mason Briggs, Godbold, Torwie, and Nathan Harlan.

It was an emotional ceremony with heartfelt tributes from the players and the coaches, and a lot of tears were flowing on the floor of the Pyramid. Knipe had an interesting vantage point as both the coach of the team and the father of one of the seniors, but said he was able to keep his head in the game on Saturday.

“It was easier than I thought it was going to be to be honest with you, just because of the competitiveness of the match,” he said. “I would have had a little tougher time with it if I was sitting in the stands, but I think I was so into the match. And I think that everything in life is a little bit washer when you win, too. So this feeling of securing the number one seed, winning the conference outright, it made it a celebration. And it should be thought of like that.”

The Beach took the first set by going the long way, as UC Irvine fought off a pair of set points to come back from down 24-22 to deuce it. The Beach ended up closing on a big kill from Varga and then an ace from Godbold that painted the right corner. Long Beach outhit the ‘Eaters .519 to .500 in the frame as Varga had five kills and Siapanis had four. 

In the second set, Irvine’s Achilles heel came into play as the Anteaters had 10 service errors. They’re known as a big-serving team that bombs serves and takes chances from the end line. Last night in Irvine they were dialed in, but in the second set against the Beach they were even netting jump floats and softer serves. That helped the Beach win easily 25-21 despite being outhit .417 to .333, with two Beach blocks coming in huge as well.

In the third set, the Beach started to pull away early and eventually were putting down some style points, with Siapanis dropping a touch shot over the block and then spinning circles, and then stuffing a ball back onto the attacker’s head for a block as Torwie screamed “Oh my God!” as the ball fell to the ground. 

The third set was domination as the Beach led wire to wire and outhit the Eaters .400 to .200 and ran away with the win, the trophy, and the one seed.

Setter Aidan Knipe has been around the Beach program since birth since his dad is the head coach and architect of the modern era, and compared the team’s loss in Irvine to the 2019 NCAA title team’s loss to USC late in the season that year.

“We’ve had a great season so far but it’s a good learning lesson and a gut check for our guys that we’re not perfect and we have things we still need to work on,” he said. “This was a good response for our guys, to show that we’re capable of bouncing back. It’s going to be physical volleyball all the way through now.”

Libero Mason Briggs wasn’t surprised that the team responded the way they did on Saturday.

“I knew that we would have a response,” he said. “This was an awesome night, it was a great way to celebrate and enjoy the sweep here at home, surrounded by this many fans and so many who stuck around that was huge. Having my family and extended family and family that’s not actually family was unreal, this is something that I’ve dreamed of since before I was even committed here.”

PHOTOS: Long Beach State vs UC Irvine Volleyball 
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.