Only hours before No. 4 Long Beach’s first Big West Conference game of the season against No. 3 UCSB, the news hit that all Big West Conference spring sporting events were suspended indefinitely.
“I didn’t believe it was real,” junior outside hitter Ethan Siegfried said. “It felt like a dream because it was all happening so fast. I was definitely just baffled at the whole situation and the progression of it all.”
Soon after, all spring competition was outright canceled, preventing Long Beach the chance to win its third straight NCAA championship, a feat that had only been done once before by UCLA, which captured four in a row in the `80s.
The Beach was 10-1 by the time the season was canceled, with their only loss coming at the hands of UCLA in four sets on Feb. 1 at the Walter Pyramid. Long Beach started the season with five-straight wins until the loss halted the streak.
Four weeks after the loss, the Beach returned the favor by beating the Bruins in five sets at the Wooden Center. The win was part of another five-game winning streak that the Beach strung together before the season was cut short.
“We got significantly better [after the loss] and that’s a really big thing for me as a coach, to have the guys to be able to identify individually and team areas of focus,” Long Beach head coach Alan Knipe said.
Despite the season coming to an early end, junior middle blocker Simon Anderson said although the team was relatively new, he was happy everyone had finally found their role and built chemistry.
“We found different ways to get better and win matches,” Anderson said. “It takes a while for a team to get settled in and everyone to get used to playing with each other. We definitely needed the time in practice to get the rhythms right.”
Setter Gary Trejo, the only senior on the roster, said that the team got the most out of the 11 games it had played, however, the news came as a shock.
“This is never how anyone wants to end their volleyball career, especially [being] back-to-back champions and having that final year to potentially have a three-peat,” Trejo said. “A lot of the [players] were putting a lot more into it this year. Our coach prepared us that we were going to have that target on the back of our head and that teams are going to play us as hard as they can.”
Trejo said that the team was “hungry” to repeat as champs for a third-straight year and it was working to improve every day.
“They’ve implemented a culture that you’re just working with your boys, whether it’s on the court or off the court, you’re always being around them,” Trejo said. “I’ve played on many different teams, but this is the first program that I’ve been in that they’ve really instilled a culture that is just hard to resist.”
Although the season ended abruptly, Siegfried is excited for next season based on the foundation the team built this year, and the new recruiting class coming in next year.
“It’ll be a good group of guys to have as [options] to try and implement into our systems, which [will] benefit us,” Siegfried said. “Whether the freshmen come in to play on the second team or some are implemented into the starting lineup.”