Long Beach State men's volleyball sweeps Belmont Abbey

After a tidy 90-minute, first-round sweep, Aidan Knipe still had enough energy to sprint from the locker room at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid to the news conference upstairs. The Beach setter wants to keep this week moving toward bigger goals.

Knipe piloted No. 2 Long Beach State to a dominant three-set sweep of No. 7 Belmont Abbey in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Tuesday with a clinical 37 assists and seven digs. With the 25-18, 25-14, 25-11 victory, the Beach will face No. 3 seed Grand Canyon, which swept No. 6 Ohio State, in a national semifinal at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

“At this point, you want to move on,” head coach Alan Knipe said, “and our guys did a good job with that.”

Attempting to win its fourth national championship and first since 2019, the Beach (26-2) appears headed for a title match clash with No. 1 seed UCLA, which advanced to the semifinals with a sweep of Fort Valley State. UCLA will next face UC Irvine, which swept Penn State. But with an expanded eight-team field, the road might be tougher than any other title run.

Facing an additional match this week, Alan Knipe dug into his bench by starting Nathan Harlan at opposite over Clarke Godbold, an AVCA honorable mention All-American. Harlan, who was averaging 0.69 kills per set, was one of three Long Beach attackers with double-digit kills, finishing one shy of his career high with 10.

“We want to make sure we use our depth to our advantage in a three-match week,” Alan Knipe said. “Nathan’s proven all year long that he can carry the load for us nicely and he did a great job tonight.”

Long Beach State overwhelmed the Crusaders (21-5) with its balanced attack led by 11 kills on 16 swings from first-team All-American Sotiris Siapanis. Redshirt sophomore Skyler Varga added 10 kills. Aidan Knipe used Long Beach’s pinpoint passing to set up quick plays through the middle as middle blocker Simon Torwie had 14 swings — his most since March 16 against Hawaii — for eight kills.

Belmont Abbey, the Conference Carolinas tournament champion that had a school-record 21 wins, tried to keep pace with Long Beach State by digging balls and forcing long rallys. The Crusaders hit .333 in the first set before Long Beach State’s defense locked them down to .049 over the last two sets.

“It was just basically effort,” Siapanis said of Long Beach State’s improved defense. “They were setting the balls to the pins. … We weren’t getting there. So it was a little more intentions with our moves and our effort.”

The Beach, which entered the tournament as the nation’s leader in blocks per set at 3.23, didn’t have a single block in the first two sets despite dominating both. The Beach finally got its block going as Aidan Knipe and Torwie teammed to stuff Belmont Abbey’s Jibriel Elhaddad on the first point of the third set. The Beach never trailed in the last game.

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