Sotiris Siapanis attacks for Long Beach against GCU/NCAA photo

Long Beach State junior middle blocker Simon Torwie isn’t one to be his own PR agent. Anytime he is questioned about something he might have done on the court, he chooses to spread the praise.

Take Long Beach’s 22-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 opening-round victory over Grand Canyon in the NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship on Tuesday night.

Torwie had 10 kills on 11 swings (hitting .909), eight blocks and two service aces, with several of those stats being accumulated at crucial times.

The result was Long Beach (21-4), an at-large selection from the Big West to the seven-team field, earning a spot in the national semifinals, where it will face No. 1 overall seed UCLA (29-2), the MPSF champion, at 5 p.m. Eastern Thursday.

The other semifinal pits EIVA-champion Penn State (27-3), a four-set winner over Ohio State on Tuesday, against second-seeded Hawai’i, the Big West champ, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

While most of the nation recognizes Torwie, a 6-foot-10 native of Spain, for his blocking — he led the nation with 1.60 per set — Torwie does plenty of other things well. They all were on display in the latter stages of the fourth set against Grand Canyon.

With the score knotted 20-20 after a video review ruled Torwie touched a GCU kill attempt before it landed out of bounds, he had two kills, an ace and a dig as Long Beach scored five of the final eight points to hold off GCU.

After the call on Torwie that tied the fourth set, he put down a vicious kill to put Long Beach up 21-20. A Camden Gianni kill pulled the Lopes even again, but Torwie responded with his 10th kill to put Long Beach State up 22-21.

Long Beach’s Simon Torwie hits over GCU’s Rico Wardlow/NCAA photo

On the ensuing rally, Torwie lunged for a dig to keep the point alive, and Sotiris Siapanis gave Long Beach a two-point cushion with a dink over the net. Siapanis didn’t start the match because, coach Alan Knipe said, he was feeling a little ill, but he contributed in a big way nonetheless.

Torwie wasn’t done. On the next point, he served an ace to the feet of Christian Janke to give Long Beach a 24-21 lead. Kills by Gianni and Janke brought Grand Canyon back within a point at 24-23, but a slick tip by Siapanis ended the Lopes’ first visit to the NCAA Tournament.

Go ahead, Simon. Brag on yourself a bit.

Well, maybe not.

Here is what Torwie said about his clutch ace in the fourth set: “Honestly, I just went for the serve, and I think I got lucky. Sometimes you have a great serve and you end up with a perfect (opponent) pass and you don’t get a point. In that case I just got lucky. There’s no way of saying that was a better serve than the other ones. That’s just how it is.”

Here is his discourse on his offense and defense: “Honestly, it doesn’t come down to me. It’s what my team does. When we talk about attacking, the passing was just perfect. My setter, Aiden (Knipe), he’s able to give me perfect situations to just feast, basically.

“And blocking wise, again, it’s not just me. It’s my pin blockers. All four of them are able to help me a lot. They take away things that would stress me out. The numbers might look like it’s all me, but most of that is my pins helping me out.”

One more chance, Simon: How about your overall performance?

“I probably got to a point where all things kind of worked together: being physically where I want to be, knowing our game, our style of game, the best right now … and having all the guys around me who are on the same page doing the exact thing I need of them so that I can succeed.”

Libero Mason Briggs, seated on the postgame dias with Alan Knipe and Torwie, couldn’t contain a smile as he listened to his teammate deftly deflect any hint of praise to his teammates – kind of the way Briggs deflected 13 clean digs from his spot in the back row.

Torwie might not be eager to be his own press agent, but anyone who watched Tuesday’s match knows he is more than just a tall dude who sticks up his hands to swat opposing kill attempts.

Those same viewers also learned Grand Canyon belonged in the tournament.

A relative neophyte at the Division I level, the Lopes (20-8), an at-large selection from the MPSF, consistently were ranked among the top six or seven teams all season. Still, some must have wondered if GCU was deserving of an at-large bid.

But the Lopes proved time and again that they weren’t going to go down without a fight –not even against a program with the pedigree of Long Beach.

“A lot of credit to GCU,” Alan Knipe said. “Not only the way they played tonight but the way they played all season. They’ve got a really nice team with a lot of good arms and a great young coach. They did a lot of good things.”

Looking to be on the verge of getting blown out in the first set, GCU used a 5-0 run to erase an 11-6 deficit.

With the first set at 20-20, Grand Canyon got a pair of kills from Jackson Hickman, one from Gianni and one from middle blocker Rico Wardlow to earn a 25-22 victory.

Coach Matt Werle saw Tuesday’s performance as a big step for his burgeoning squad.

“I think one of the things that I always challenge our guys with is to leave the gym proud, whether it’s practice or competition,” he said. “We can be proud. We didn’t execute the way that we needed to execute, but we can leave here proud of the season.

“As much as we all try to seek approval in life, I think our guys, again, it’s just a matter of being proud … To me it’s not about the ‘haters’ and the ‘doubters’ out there. If they like us more, that’s awesome. But it’s about us as long as we can be proud of what we did.”

Gianni led GCU with 18 kills. Hickman had 13 and Janke 10. Wardlow contributed nine (.615) and four block assists. Nicholas Slight, who has competed against Long Beach setter Aidan Knipe since the two were teenagers, had 49 assists.

Long Beach bounced back in a big way in the second set, taking advantage of 13 total errors by GCU to win 25-17.

“We battled every single set,” Gianni said. “I think the difference was just attention to detail, and it kind of carried throughout the entire set. Once we realized kind of what was going on and what we were missing and the points of emphasis that we just weren’t clicking on, we were able to make those adjustments and we were kind of able to bounce back but we got behind too early and too fast.”

The third also went to Long Beach State, 25-22. Junior opposite Clarke Godbold was leading the charge up to that point, with 12 kills through the third set. Torwie had seven blocks by then.

Godbold had 13 kills and Siapanis and Spencer Olivier finished with 12 each to go with Torwie’s 10. Aidan Knipe had 48 assists. Olivier had a double-double, adding 10 digs to his dozen kills.

GCU led in the early stages of the fourth set, going up 4-1 and 8-5. Long Beach grabbed the lead at 12-11, and the teams went back and forth until, at 20-20, Torwie took over.

Not that he ever would admit to doing so.

Long Beach’s Nathan Harlan is stuffed by Grand Canyon’s Camden Gianni, left, and Cameron Thorne/NCAA photo


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