As two-time national champions, the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team is tasked to meet some pretty high expectations, and new team leader Simon Andersen is going to have to use his 6-foot-8-inch stature to rise to that level.
The reigning back-to-back NCAA champion team is looking to follow the past two years of dominance, but with many of its top talent graduating last year, a lot of responsibility has been placed onto younger players like Andersen.
“We talk to the guys all the time about Simon being the visual example of exactly how we want to approach both sides of the ball,” head coach Alan Knipe said. “On the court, off the court, offense, defense, he really brings a professional attitude towards our team.”
The middle blocker from Middelfart, Denmark, was a valuable player for Long Beach’s last two titles, having started every game since his freshman year. As a freshman on an eventual championship team, Andersen used his length and timing to block shots while also leading the team in hitting percentage at 47%.
Andersen’s skill comes from the ability to pair his athleticism with his high volleyball IQ, a much-needed characteristic for a team that is still adjusting to a smaller amount of talent after losing star players TJ DeFalco, Josh Tuaniga and Kyle Ensing.
“Of course there’s a lot of new guys who are really excited to play,” Andersen said. “You never know with the freshman coming in, but players like Mason [Briggs] [are] great teammates and he helps us a lot in all sorts of ways.”
Andersen came to Long Beach as a seasoned freshman with plenty of international experience, having been a part of the Danish national team. In 2014 he started out at the U19 level, working his way up to the men’s team where he most recently participated in the 2019 CEV European Silver League.
Getting the chance to join the Danish national team’s program added to his game development, Andersen said. Although he still had to adapt to Long Beach’s playing style, the middle blocker was able to fit into the team like a glove, and now he’s acting as the team’s leader.
“He was taught really well in Denmark,” Knipe said. “[He] came at a high level from playing at their national team program. He was one of the most calm, confident players we ever added to our lineup as a freshman.”
Not every young player is able to build their skills at that kind of level, which is why Andersen has made it a goal to help the younger players.
“I feel like I am getting huge support from all the guys I have … like Carlos [Rivera] is a really great setter,” Andersen said, “and we’ve been getting a lot of really huge passes that open up our offense. It’s been a huge key for us.”
For a team that welcomes six freshmen, No. 5 Long Beach (4-0) is trying to fast-track the development of many players by getting them familiar with the Beach’s system and preparing them for the high-level competition in the Big West. As one of the top volleyball conferences in the nation, the Big West boasts consistently ranked programs such as No. 1 Hawaii, No. 4 UCSB and No. 7 UC Irvine in a hard-hitting conference schedule.
Despite not being a finished product, the Beach has yielded great results after three-straight wins at UC Santa Barbara’s ASICS Invitational and a solid four-set win over crosstown rival USC Friday, Jan 17 in its home-opener.
“Every team is different. You’re always losing guys and you’re always gaining guys,” said junior outside hitter Ethan Siegfried. “Alan [Knipe] really tries to make that an emphasis every year, so we’re just setting that goal, one year at a time.”
Luckily the newcomers to the Beach have the well-rounded Danish blocker towering around the nets of the Walter Pyramid to look up to as a role model.
“It’s been really great to play with all the great guys that have been [here in the past],” Andersen said. “I just hope I can give some [of my knowledge] to the guys playing with me now.”