The season is coming to an end and the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team is exactly where they should be: in a position to win the conference and gaining momentum heading into the Big West Tournament.
There’s a lot on the line, No.1 Hawai’i’s (25-0, 8-0 Big West) undefeated record and No. 2 Long Beach’s (23-1, 8-0 Big West) undefeated home record, and both these teams will clash for the No. 1 seed and a Big West championship.
But there’s one thing we should note: regardless of the outcome, there’s still a lot of volleyball left on the quest for an NCAA championship. These two teams are the top teams in the nation and have a chance to face each other next week in the Big West Tournament final, should they both advance.
Looking even more ahead, both of these teams will have bids for the NCAA tournament and a chance for a national championship. This rivalry is intertwined with each other, and there’s a potential for the 49ers and the Rainbow Warriors to meet in the grandest stage of them all.
It all begins Friday and Saturday when Hawai’i rolls into the Walter Pyramid; the Long Beach seniors will get a chance to say their final farewells on senior night Saturday, leaving Long Beach all but one starting slot available for next season.
“If this was a professional team, I would sign them to a 10-year contract,” head coach Alan Knipe said. “But it’s college sports and you can’t do anything about [it]. Since it’s the inevitable, it’s going to happen and that happens to every player, so the best thing we can do is stay totally focused on right now.”
It’s been quite a ride for Long Beach. Many people expected them to be undefeated, but the team fell to USC after playing in rough circumstances that required a few rule changes due to venue change on the road; nonetheless, the 49ers are still on the right path to recapture glory.
The 49ers may look like underdogs against the Rainbow Warriors, who have crushed every opponent having only dropped one set all season, but this team always displays their resiliency when their backs are against the wall.
“We can use that to our advantage, but we don’t ever feel like an underdog,” Knipe said.
Now’s the time to implement everything Long Beach has learned this season and put on a show for the home crowd as it continues its battle for a back-to-back championship season. Through playing cramped venues with no ventilation to not having lost a match inside the Pyramid in three years, Long Beach has experienced enough adversity to not be fazed by this matchup. It’s go time for the 49ers and their most difficult challenge of the season awaits them.
Long Beach wraps up the regular season with a two-game series 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday against Hawai’i in the Walter Pyramid.
Bryan Aparicio is a fourth year journalism student at Long Beach State. He was originally a business major before transferring to the journalism program because of his love for sports. He currently covers the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team, the reigning national champions and aspires to be a beat writer for a professional team in the future.