Going back-to-back in NCAA men’s volleyball has become the norm in the last eight years. It all started in 2012 when UC Irvine won back-to-back NCAA championships under two different head coaches. Irvine was followed by Loyola Chicago the next two years, and Ohio State after that. Last year, Long Beach State won the national title, and is looking to be the fourth team in a row to accomplish the feat.
Many believe Long Beach is way above any other school in the nation, but there is something the team should be paying close attention to. In the NCAA rankings, the 49ers haven’t moved from first place since last season. But on their heels are Hawai’i, Irvine, Pepperdine and Santa Barbara, respectively.
Four of the top five teams are in the Big West, which means each of them see each other at least two times in the regular season, and once in the Big West tournament.
Last year was almost a surprise for Long Beach, coming off of a semi finals loss in the Final Four. No one expected the 49ers to only lose one game. Long Beach went through the inaugural Big West tournament, but when it came to championship day, the team struggled. The Bruins exposed the 49ers going up 2-0, but couldn’t finish the job. Like a true champion, Long Beach found a way to make a comeback at Pauley Pavillion. That’s when fans realized the 49ers were the real deal.
Long Beach has only dropped one set so far this season, but its true test comes March 1 when conference play begins. Big West schools have had the last two years to study this team and see what its weaknesses are. It will be interesting to see what adjustments other conference teams make when playing the 49ers.
Long Beach head coach Alan Knipe will have to keep his team confident, yet humble if he wants to add a third ring to his collection. To end the year with a plethora of bonus checks, he will have to remember what happened against UCLA in the National Championship. Long Beach is beatable, but true champions will figure out a way to win it all again regardless of its competition. The next two months will be interesting to say the least, but we can expect to see another banner hanging in the Walter Pyramid next season.