Long Beach State earned a program-record seven AVCA All-American selections Monday. Mason Briggs made the first team, while Clarke Godbold, Spencer Olivier, Sotiris Siapanis, and Simon Torwie all got second-team honors. Shane Holdaway and Aidan Knipe received honorable-mention status.
Long Beach State vs. Grand Canyon, 5 p.m., ESPN+
Penn State. vs. Ohio State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN+
UCLA vs. Long Beach-GCU winner, 5 p.m., NCAA.com
Hawai’i vs. Penn State/Ohio State winner, 7:30 p.m, NCAA.com
Championship match, 5 p.m., ESPN2ESPN+ESPN3 (Español)
Aidan Knipe can’t remember a time when he wasn’t hanging around Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State. He grew up watching his father, Alan, sustain the success of The Beach’s men’s volleyball program, culminating with back-to-back national titles in 2018 and ’19 while Aidan was in high school.

The younger Knipe is still hanging around the Pyramid, but as a redshirt-junior setter for his father’s team. Long Beach is 20-4 and plays Grand Canyon (22-7) on Tuesday in an opening-round match of the NCAA Division I-II men’s tournament at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Long Beach of the Big West and GCU of the MPSF have met only once before, when Long Beach won in 2019. In the other semifinal, Penn State plays Ohio State, which swept its opening-round match over King.

Aidan Knipe also played football and soccer in high school, but any thoughts of pursuing something other than volleyball in college were fleeting. So, too, were thoughts of leaving the “nest” and playing somewhere away from The Beach. There were dalliances with Ohio State and UCSB, Aidan said, but in the end, there was never a doubt.

Aidan Knipe gets ready to set Long Beach teammate Shane Holdaway/LBSU photo

“Since I was coherent and have memory, I was in The Pyramid watching volleyball,” said Aidan, averaging 9.60 assists per set. “It’s nice to be able to go full circle and flip it to where I was a fan and very integrated to the program to being part of the program.

“I think my dad and I do a good job flipping our on-the-court and off-the-court relationship. We’re able to separate volleyball from a family dynamic.”

Alan Knipe, in his 19th season, said he tries to ease any strain by having Aidan do much of his practice work with assistants Nick MacRae and Andy Read. That way, the coach said, Aidan doesn’t have that feeling of him “hovering” all the time.

“I never wanted it to be a situation where he didn’t enjoy it or avoid the fact that he was my son,” Alan Knipe said. “We’re going through these wonderful experiences as father and son, not just coach and player. I think we found a nice balance as the years have went on.”

Added Aidan: “What I like to say when people ask me this is whether or not I like it  or if it gets hard for me at moments, it would be harder to play against him on the other side of the net than it would to be playing with him.”

The Beach’s opponents might feel the same way. At-large team or not, Long Beach has proven throughout the season that it is one of the best teams in the country and a legitimate threat to win the national title.

Long Beach advanced to the championship match last year but lost to Big West rival Hawai’i, the No. 2 seed this season.

Long Beach lost in the Big West tournament semifinals to UC Irvine. but still got an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. But the elder Knipe doesn’t believe that one blip should diminish what his team accomplished this season or the form his players have shown.

That includes wins over Penn State — which plays Ohio State on Tuesday — and Hawai’i, which awaits the Penn State/Ohio State winner in the semifinals.

“The body of work has been really, really special for this team, and I think we’re only getting better,” said Knipe, who has 392 victories and is the winningest coach in program history. “I think the guys know even though we lost that match (in the Big West tourney), that’s not an indication of what we’ve been doing all season long and certainly not an indication of the team we are at the present time.”

Said junior middle Simon Torwie: “I believe the Long Beach team we’re going to see in the tournament, starting against GCU, will be better than what we saw (in the Big West tournament).”

Simon Torwie/LBSU photo

Torwie’s development as a middle has helped The Beach to become one of the best defensive teams in the country. Their 2.829 blocks per set – topped by Torwie’s nation-leading 1.60 per set – is just a fraction behind UCLA, and their opponent hitting percentage of .204 is behind only Penn State among tournament teams.

Torwie, a product of Balearic Island, Spain, via Frankfurt, Germany, came to Long Beach as an opposite, but his 6-foot-10 frame has helped to make him a force since he moved to middle.

“He’s nowhere close to his ceiling,” Alan Knipe said. “When you can flip to the middle and lead the country in blocking, obviously, you’ve done well … He’s done a great job of picking up how to be an offensive middle.

“But probably what’s going to seal his fate of being a really special middle in Europe and for his national team is the fact that he serves like an opposite.”

As far as his blocking goes, Torwie likes to, um, deflect credit to teammates such as Clarke Godbold and Sotiris Siapanis. Those two are among the pin players, Torwie said, he can trust to help him put up a formidable block. Godbold, junior, also averages more than a block per set – in addition to 2.81 kills per set on the attack – and Siapanis, a transfer from Ohio State who was the MIVA Newcomer of the year last season, averages 0.60 blocks per set.

Siapanis, a  6-3 opposite from Cyprus, has made his presence felt all over the court.

“Right now, he’s my guy to go to when I’m in big situations or high-ball situations,” Aidan Knipe said. “He’s the guy helping me clean those situations up.”

Siapanis averages 3.21 kills per set and hits at a respectable .262 clip. In LBS’s win over Hawai’i, he had 19 kills and hit .531. He also has a team-leading 38 aces.

But, as Torwie pointed out, Siapanis is a sound all-around player.

“He’s a really skilled volleyball player, and he knows the game very well,” he said. “He will sometimes make reads I am amazed by when it comes to setters trying to dump. He will read that way before anyone else on the court.

“And in the back row, if you look at his highlights, he’s a very good defender. It makes it easy for us blockers to know even if we mess up a little bit or someone might go over the top, we still have Sotiris and Mason in the back row to scoop that up.”

Added Alan Knipe: “There’s nothing on the court that he cannot do … He reminds me a lot kind of in the model of a Taylor Crabb or a TJ DeFalco style of volleyball in that he’s probably better at everything than he is at just one thing.”

“Mason,” whom Torwie spoke about, would be Mason Briggs, a 6-foot junior libero who ranked fifth in the nation at 2.35 digs per set. Penn State coach Mark Pavlik called Briggs “the most established and arguably the best libero in our game today.”

Briggs, along with Torwie, fifth-year outside hitter Spencer Olivier (2.74 kills per set) and Siapanis were first-team All-Big West selections. Aidan Knipe, Godbold and Shane Holdaway (1.69 kills per set) were honorable mention, and Connor Bloom was on the all-freshman team.

Olivier and Holdaway are the lone holdovers from The Beach’s 2019 national title team. Bit players at that time, they now have an influential hand in the fate of their final season, and they would like to finish the way they started: with a title.

That also would be a special moment father and son could share.

Stacked with talent and determination – and perhaps a bit of anger – The Beach looks to be as capable as any team of pulling it off.

“Irvine, first of all, is a really good team, and they were definitely a battle in the regular season,” Aidan Knipe said, circling back to the Big West Tournament loss. “Having it in their home environment just made it a really good match, and they played well.

“But it definitely lit a fire under us. I think we’re going into this tournament to better some of our weaknesses and knowing some things we need to improve on. I think we’re going to be ready for some redemption.”


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