Men's Sports, Men's Volleyball, Sports

‘I grew up in the Pyramid’: Long Beach State’s father-son volleyball duo

At just a week-and-a-half old, Aidan Knipe caught his first glimpse of the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team.

“I had him dressed in his Long Beach State gear,” his mother Jennifer Knipe said. “I was hiding up in the Ukleja room, peeking out the window watching the game. I didn’t go in the crowd with a newborn baby.”

With his father just beginning his path towards becoming one of the most prominent figures in Beach athletics history, Aidan was right there along the way, following in his footsteps.  

“I grew up in the Pyramid,” Aidan said. “My whole life, every single weekend was spent there watching matches. I felt like it was something that I had to continue on.”

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Long Beach State men's volleyball head coach Alan Knipe walks along the beach with his one-year-old son Aidan Knipe.

Courtesy of Jennifer Knipe

The choice was crystal clear when it came time for freshman setter Aidan to choose where he wanted to play collegiate volleyball. He had never considered playing for any other school but Long Beach.

For the first time in 17 years as the Long Beach State men’s volleyball head coach, Alan Knipe had the opportunity to coach his son. 

“With these young men that you recruit, you watch them mature through these real formable years of their life, it’s special,” Alan said. “To combine that with your own son, has been really, really special.”

Coach Knipe’s legacy is already set in stone in Long Beach history, being inducted into the athletic department’s Hall of Fame in 2011. As a player, he was named to the All-American second team in 1991 and helped Long Beach win it’s first men’s volleyball national championship. A year later he was selected to the All-American first team. 

Alan boasts a career .696 win percentage over his 17 (one shortened) seasons at the Beach, along with seven championship appearances as a coach and two as a player.

At the helm, he elevated the program back to its winning ways, capturing back-to-back national championships in 2018 and 2019, and was crowned Big West Conference Coach of the Year in both seasons.

Although Aidan is following the path his father paved, he still plans to “blaze his own trail” and leave his own mark on the university’s history.

“There’s also some added pressure on Aidan because he is the coach’s son,” Aidan’s mother Jennifer said. “There will always be people that speculate, ‘Oh is he going to be good enough? Is he going to live up to the national championship standards that Alan has developed?’”

Although it has always been in Aidan’s plan to play volleyball under the tutelage of his world-renowned father, growing up he got grief “here and there” from people thinking he was going to be given a spot simply for being the legend’s son. 

“Aidan has done such a good job standing on his own two feet,” Alan said. “He’s created his own resume that he could pretty much play at any program in the country, and I think people understand that.” 

Straddling the line between coach and father was an adjustment Alan had to make when Aidan joined the team. 

“I think it would be more difficult to handle it if Aidan wasn’t so committed to being all-in to our program in every area, whether it be academically, lifting and conditioning,” Alan said.  

Before stepping foot on campus as a student-athlete, Alan hadn’t coached Aidan as he climbed through high school and club volleyball ranks. 

“By having those other experiences, I think he came to value his dad’s wisdom even more,” Jennifer said. “Maturity-wise for Aidan, when he was so young, it was hard for him to be coached by his father because that whole ‘wanting to please your dad all the time.’”

One factor that made things easier for Alan was having his son move into the dorms on campus. The two wouldn’t have to take volleyball home with them.

“Starting the year, it was obviously by far the greatest experience of my life,” Aidan said. “Getting to play Division-1 volleyball on a daily basis, living with my best friends and getting to make those great connections.”

Although the 2020 volleyball season has been canceled, Alan stresses an important message to himself, Aidan and the whole team. To get one percent better each day.

“Right now, I have the ability to control getting a really good jump start on next season as far as our culture, our planning and training,” Alan said. “Aidan doesn’t have a lot of opportunities with his team, but he has a lot of opportunities for individual growth.” 

As an educator, Jennifer sees her husband guide his athletes through more than just volleyball. 

“He’s getting 18-year-old boys and they’re leaving as 22-year-old men,” Jennifer said. “To watch Aidan now be a part of this at Long Beach, I can’t put into words what that means to me.”

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