It’s time to take a step back and acknowledge that the road to another championship won’t be as easy as fans thought it would be.
After cruising through the season and crushing opponents in the Walter Pyramid, No. 1 Long Beach State men’s volleyball (19-0, 4-0 Big West) was finally put to the test. In a five set battle against No. 3 Santa Barbara (15-5, 2-2 Big West), Long Beach struggled and seemed rattled by the level of intensity the Gauchos displayed Mar. 14.
With tables turned on the verge of losing the match, Long Beach regrouped, refocused and put on a championship performance to come back and defeat Santa Barbara in five sets, showing the resilience of the team. The 49ers bent but did not break, and the team grew from facing adversity. It showed following Friday’s rematch, where it saw Long Beach defeat Santa Barbara in four sets.
“You certainly know that you have to get into these moments where the guys are tested and are dealing with adversity,” head coach Alan Knipe said. “We build trust in those moments. Whether we win the point or win the set, being in those tight moments you learn to just stay together, say what you’re going to do and then go out there and actually do it.”
Thursday and Friday’s matchups displayed how tough the Big West Conference is and it won’t get any easier. These games are setting up for Long Beach’s battle against No. 2 Hawai’i (17-0, 4-0 Big West) Apr. 12 and 13, a meeting that will feature two Goliaths and no David. These powerhouses are the only two undefeated teams in men’s volleyball, but Hawai’i might be on another level right now.
For the the first time since the national championship game last season, Long Beach struggled and was humbled by Santa Barbara. Its matchup against the Gauchos served as a learning lesson. Although they won both matches, Santa Barbara gave Long Beach plenty of film to look at so it can better itself.
This team, as talented as they are, has a lot they can improve on. Bettering its blocking and attacking and making everything difficult for opponents are tools the 49ers will get better at.
Long Beach will travel to Los Angeles for a matchup against USC Saturday 7 p.m. in the North Gym.