Long Beach is certainly well known for producing football and baseball stars, with more pro players in those sports coming from the city than any other in the nation. But Long Beach State men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe makes a pretty convincing case for Long Beach actually being a volleyball town.
“Long Beach has always been a city that shows up for big volleyball events and that appreciates the game,” he said.
His 49ers are currently No. 1 in the nation, and will be hosting the MPSF conference semifinals and championship in the Walter Pyramid Thursday and Saturday, as four of the top five teams in the nation will compete in front of what’s expected to be a sellout crowd.
Thursday evening, No. 3 BYU will face No. 4 Hawaii at 5 p.m. with No. 1 Long Beach State facing No. 5 UC Irvine at 7:30 p.m., with the winners of those matches meeting on Saturday evening in the championship.
The top two teams will advance to May’s NCAA Final Four, where the 49ers are hoping to win a first NCAA title since 1991 (and first for any sport at the university since women’s volleyball won in 1998).
While the Final Four is every team’s objective each season, this year’s MPSF tournament at the Pyramid will actually feature a higher level of volleyball because of the teams involved. Because of automatic qualifiers from other conferences, there’s no chance the Final Four will see four of the top five teams in the country competing.
“This is clearly, historically, the best tournament for volleyball in the country,” said Knipe. “And we’re fortunate to get to host it in the Pyramid.”
The 49ers earned the right to host by winning the MPSF regular season title this season (the powerhouse conference features eight of the top 10 teams in the nation this year).
Knipe’s team is the real deal this year, with the top outside hitter, setter, and opposite hitter in the country, as well as the all-time digs leader in school history playing libero. But Knipe’s been a believer in the Pyramid as a perfectly-sized venue to host premier volleyball events for a long time. When he was coaching the USA national team during the 2012 Olympic cycle, Knipe literally put his money where his mouth is and had the team play at the Pyramid several times, to a sold-out crowd of more than 5,000 each time.
Since then, the USA Volleyball program had made regular stops through the building. The FIVB (volleyball’s international organizing body) has even caught on, hosting the annual World Series of Beach Volleyball on the beach.
“These are four teams that have been playing at a really high level,” said Knipe. “If you’re a fan who came out to check out the national team, this is going to be worth it to you. The brand of volleyball will be great.”
The NCAA just announced that the Pyramid’s tradition of hosting top-level volleyball events will continue well past this week, as Long Beach State will host the Final Four…