A hard right-handed swing hits the ball from what appears to be at the feet of the first-row fans.
It travels in a perfect arch to junior setter Carlos Rivera who puts it up for junior middle blocker Simon Anderson. The kill goes ricocheting off Pepperdine’s block attempt and out of bounds. Point Long Beach.
The libero, who stands out on the court with a contrasting jersey to the rest of the team, can be one of the most difficult positions in volleyball. The jack-of-all-trades player must possess strong defensive awareness and also precise passing skills.
The defensive maestro’s assignment for the game is two-fold: to keep the play alive for the offense to flow, but also to prevent the other team from scoring.
Often regarded as the “fullback of the team,” according to starting libero Mason Briggs, this year’s Long Beach State men’s volleyball roster features a freshman manning the role of defensive leader for the first time since 2013.
“Any freshman who starts in men’s volleyball, regardless of what position you play, it’s not normal,” Long Beach State men’s volleyball head coach Alan Knipe said. “It’s too much depth. The fact that you can get on the court as a freshman is impressive.”
The rookie kill-wrangler has shined through in the team’s first six games.
“What people don’t see is all the work he puts in to prep for matches, to prep for practice,” Knipe said. “All of the videos he watches, he makes it really easy to play with [the team]. He brings a lot to the court.”
Knipe compared Briggs’ display of athleticism, which landed him at No. 2 on the NCAA’s Top Plays list against Pepperdine Jan. 25, to an outfielder tracking down a deep shot to the warning track and laying his body on the line.
“The fact that he didn’t give up on the ball and he fully extended out, it’s spectacular,” Knipe said. “Super proud of him. We call it ‘yes-yes mentality,’ and we have a lot of guys in the gym that play with yes-yes mentality.”
Knipe made a point to note Briggs’ effort has contributed to the team’s momentum, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by his squad.
“We always talk about giving effort,” teammate Rivera said, “and once plays like that happen, the energy and effort that the person gave flows through everyone, and everyone wants to do even more and give more.”
Although sweat left on the court doesn’t always show qualitatively in the stat sheet, he certainly has been proving his worth by the numbers too.
Briggs as of Feb. 7 sits second in the Big West in digs per set with 2.33 and is first among liberos in the conference.
“We have a goal of getting final four, and we’re all focusing on that,” Briggs said. “We take it week by week, and I’m just doing my part as much as I can working on expanding my range on defense, covering more court on serve-receive and stacking that every week.”
Mark Lindahl, sports editor, contributed to this story.