Long Beach State volleyball enters NCAA Final Four with history at stake

The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team boasts the best libero in the country in sophomore Mason Briggs. An intelligent, hard-working backstop for the Beach, Briggs was described by head coach Alan Knipe as “a human highlight reel for energy and effort” after a match earlier this season.

This week, Briggs has a chance to fulfill a boyhood dream as he tries to help lead Long Beach State to a third NCAA title in four seasons. The Beach are the No. 1 seed for the Tournament and will compete at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion against the Bruins on Thursday, May 5, at 5 p.m. for the right to play in Saturday’s national championship match.

“I remember being in the stands watching my older brother play in these matches for Long Beach, just going crazy,” said Mason. “You’re just dreaming, just itching to get to be out there. And now it’s here. These are my guys, this is our team, it’s our turn.”

Long Beach State is hoping to turn an opportunity into history. The Beach won the NCAA title in 2018 and 2019 and were a top team when the 2020 season was shut down due to COVID-19. In 2021, Big West foe Hawaii won the crown. If Long Beach wins this year, it would be the first time in school history that a program won three titles in four years, and they’d be the first men’s volleyball program to do that since UCLA did it from 1995 to ’98.

As The Beach enters their fifth Final Four in six years (also a program record), it’s fitting that they’re squaring off against the Bruins. The two teams played for the national title in 2018 with Long Beach winning a thriller, and the two national powers have developed a wonderful regional rivalry over the last half-decade.

“Rivalries build energy and attendance and excitement,” said UCLA coach John Speraw, who is currently the USA National coach as well. “In 2018 we go to Long Beach and we’re (ranked No. 1 and No. 2)  and it’s sold out. My wife comes in and says, ‘They’re scalping tickets in the parking lot.’ When that’s happening at a volleyball match, you’re going in the right direction.”

The two teams played earlier this year, with Long Beach sweeping a meeting in the Pyramid and UCLA winning at home in five sets.

Long Beach State will rely on setter Aidan Knipe (Alan’s son) to guide an offense that features hitter Alex Nikolov, Clarke Godbold and Spencer Olivier; that trio, along with Aidan and Briggs, were all named All-Americans earlier this week.

Alan Knipe said that as a coach he wants to win, but that he’s also very appreciative of the fact that a tournament is happening this week after years of disruptions or fan-less contests.

“A lot has happened from 2019 to today, obviously in the world as well as in our volleyball program,” he said. “We’re really grateful to be here, and to be in a quote-unquote normal situation. I’ve done this for a long time, but even for myself there’s no choice other than to feel very, very grateful to get back to this for these student-athletes.”

The match Thursday will be streamed live at 5 p.m. on NCAA.com and we’ll have live updates and commentary at the562.org.

Podcast: Previews for CIF baseball, softball playoffs and NCAA men’s volleyball final four

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