The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team seemed like it would blow by every opponent, win the Big West Tournament and eventually become back-to-back national champions. The 49ers can still accomplish that, but first they’ll have to reevaluate where to go from here after suffering their first loss, a sweep by No. 9 USC.
Long Beach (19-1) was trounced by USC (13-8) Saturday night in the North Gym, a venue the teams were relocated to due to Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards being hosted at the Trojans’ home court, the Galen Center.
Unfamiliar with the environment, the team was rattled by the small ceiling. There was hardly any room to chase the ball and no ventilation in the gym, which was evident after every timeout where the crowd could see the players’ faces turn red with disappointment.
The loss was the 49ers’ first in almost a year, where they lost to Hawai’i in a five-set thriller April 14, 2018, and it exposed gaps Long Beach must fill as conference play continues. The 49ers’ loss not only knocked off the No. 1 title they held for so long, but it showed opponents that they’re beatable.
Apart from playing in a much smaller venue for two nationally ranked teams, Long Beach had no excuse for starting off so abysmally, and it never gave itself a chance to stay in the game.
“It’s unfortunate some rules had to be changed for the game because there’s not enough space to pursue balls, and you have a basket standard that doesn’t work properly that’s hanging down in the playable and serving area,” head coach Alan Knipe said. “At the end of the day, it’s not an ideal venue … but it really doesn’t have a huge bearing on the fact that we didn’t play very well from the opening bell in each set.”
If there was a game for the 49ers to lose, this would be the least damaging for them since they keep an undefeated conference record with nothing but Big West games left for the rest of the season. Having the chance to maintain a perfect record in the Big West will be crucial when it comes to conference seeding in the upcoming tournament.
The Big West is the toughest conference in men’s volleyball, with five of the six teams in the conference nationally ranked. Maintaining a one or two seed will make it easier on the team to win the Big West tournament, giving them momentum for the NCAA tournament and a shot at another national championship.
Right now, the 49ers are their own biggest competition. They have to regroup, reevaluate and reiterate to opponents that they’re the defending national champions and are still the team to beat.
The 49ers are on the road again to face UC Irvine 7 p.m. Friday in the Bren Events Center.