The NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship continues Thursday night at UCLA with semifinal matches when top-seeded Long Beach State (20-5) plays UCLA (22-4) at 5 p.m. Pacific followed by Hawai’i (25-5) vs. second-seeded Ball State (23-3). Both matches will be shown on NCAA.com. Click here for more on those matchups.
LONG BEACH, Calif. – For as long as he can remember, Aidan Knipe has been under the influence of Pyramid power.
As a baby, his first trip out of the house was when Mom Jennifer took him to watch volleyball at Long Beach State. When he was old enough to start to learn how to get a little rambunctious, Aidan and his brother Evan would attend Long Beach State volleyball matches but would sneak behind the bleachers to shoot hoops while matches proceeded in the Walter Pyramid.
“I basically lived in here watching matches,” Knipe said. “I’ve been watching matches since the day I was born. The first day I was out of the house was for a men’s volleyball match so it’s all I know.”
While the kids were having their fun, Alan Knipe was on the court plotting how to get another victory as the 49ers’ coach. It’s not like he was going to leave that to chase down his two rambunctious kids.
Alan is still coaching, but with a twist. Aidan is now the team’s setter, Evan plays baseball across campus with the affectionately termed Dirtbags.
A family of four, all attending Long Beach State. And now they’re chasing an NCAA championship as a family.
“It’s one of the really cool highlights of my coaching career,” Alan said as he goes for his third NCAA title. “It’s been amazing. I’ve watched what Aidan has put in, how hard he has worked and then to get faced with a massive injury when he first got going here and have to work even harder. He’s put in a massive amount of work and I’m proud of him like I am of all of our players.
“I walk that line of head coach but I am his father. We’re experiencing something together that very few people would get the opportunity to do, which make it a very special experience for our entire family.”
It’s hardly a coincidence that the volleyball program calls itself a family. As he assembles teams each year, Knipe doesn’t just look for the next 6-foot-10 outside hitter; he’s looking for the right fit for the campus culture.
This weekend, the top-seeded 49ers are in for a family road trip 35 miles right up the San Diego Freeway, where they hope to capture their third NCAA championship in four seasons as they invade UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion for the Final Four.
On Thursday, the family will likely have to circle the wagons when it takes on the challenge of trying to beat the Bruins in their own house in order to reach Saturday’s final against either second-seeded Ball State of the MIVA or Big West Conference rival Hawaii. Long Beach beat Hawai’i in their regular-season meetings in the Pyramid; Hawai’i swept the Beach in the Big West Conference tournament final.
After two years of interruptions, the 49ers, champs in 2018 and 2019, appear equipped for the task.
“If there’s any indicator of what our guys were doing when this went on, it’s strength,” Alan said. “You look at the difference from where are in the weight room, that was something very positive to me. Our guys were dominating an area they could control. I’m just so proud of their ability at this young age to deal with this massive blow. Many people are dealing with it but it’s still massive for them in their own right.
“And then to be able come out of it in the first full year and be in the final four as the No. 1 seed is a credit to their resolve.”
Long Beach State has plenty of weapons around its sophomore setter. Alex Nikolov, a freshman outside hitter from Sofia, Bulgaria, who is the AVCA national player of the year. Libero Mason Briggs and outside hitter Clarke Godbold joined him on the all-Big West team and outside Spencer Olivier got honorable mention.
For Aidan Knipe, the season has been an exhale after being shut down by injury.
“Over the summer I had lateral ankle reconstruction done on my left ankle,” Aidan said. “The year prior, I was playing on a couple of torn ligaments and I had a bone spur that ended up exploding. There was a list of issues with my ankle. Now I’m able to be freed up.”
Living on campus, he now spends more time with his team than he goes home, even though home is only minutes away in Huntington Beach. At the same time, Aidan couldn’t be in a better situation.
On the court, he’s part of a group that is coached into shape. Off the court, dad and son try to steer conversations away from volleyball.
“I think I get treated like every other player,” Aidan said. “It’s a cool dynamic that I get to play with my dad.
“He’s very supportive. He knows all my goals and aspirations and backs them up with a good training schedule in the gym and that helps not only me but all the other guys in this program to get to where they want to be.”
“We haven’t necessarily sat down and drawn up those parameters,” Alan said. “It’s kind of unspoken, like let’s leave the volleyball at the Pyramid and let’s enjoy the family time here. It’s been a blast.”
Playing for a chance to win another NCAA final wouldn’t be a bad party either. The whole family’s invited.
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