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The Beach outmatched by UCLA in championship

“We weren’t good enough long enough,” Long Beach State head coach Alan Knipe said.

UCLA’s national championship experience showed as they played the cleaner game of the two teams on the court, which was ultimately the difference in the 2024 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship on Saturday at the Walter Pyramid.

The 24 attacking errors by LBSU stand out on the box score as at times it felt like The Beach was beating itself, which they could not afford to do against UCLA.

“There’s a reason they’re here, there’s a reason they’re playing in the national championship,” redshirt senior setter Aidan Knipe said. “They just play good volleyball.”

The crowd was electric and the environment was almost deafening as the UCLA fans traveled well and of course, the home LBSU fans showed up as they had been doing all tournament.

In the post-game press conference, both Aidan and Alan Knipe sang the crowd’s praises saying that it was the most supported men’s volleyball season they had seen and that the crowd tonight was “absolutely amazing.”

It was a nervous start to the game from The Beach as a miscommunication on a free ball at the net and a service error had it down 5-2 after seven points.

Long Beach State men's volleyball senior outside hitter Nathan Harlan (#9) and Clarke Godbold both go for a dig against UCLA in the National Championship game. The Beach could not pull off the reverse sweep after falling 2-0 and would lose 3-1 to the Bruins.
Long Beach State men's volleyball senior outside hitter Nathan Harlan (#9) and Clarke Godbold both go for a dig against UCLA in the National Championship game. The Beach could not pull off the reverse sweep after falling 2-0 and would lose 3-1 to the Bruins. Photo credit: Naoki Gima

The Beach was hitting .538 as a team when UCLA head coach John Speraw took his second timeout of the set, and from then on it was downhill as it finished the match hitting .194.

Once LBSU settled in, they were competitive in the first set and found themselves tied at 18. Two Beach attack errors that hit the horn and great Bruin hitting led to UCLA taking the first set 25-21.

The second set followed the same script as the first as The Beach found itself in an early 7-2 hole due to two attack errors and a service error.

LBSU climbed back into the game thanks to a spark off the bench from senior outside hitter Clarke Godbold, who ignited the crowd and tallied two kills, a solo block, a block assist and an ace in the set.

However, Godbold’s energy was not enough as UCLA’s consistent offense held onto the lead they created early and won the set 25-20.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of tactical stuff going on, it was a little bit of holding us off the net and having our setter run around a little bit,” Knipe said. “It was really physical and that’s what championship matches are.”

The third set was where things turned around for The Beach as it dug deep and won the thrilling set 29-27.

Shades of the semi-final vs. GCU started to enter the crowd’s mind as a kill by senior outside hitter Nathan Harlan to make the score 15-14 in favor of The Beach sent the crowd into a frenzy that would not be topped all match.

Timely kills by sophomore opposite Skyler Varga, who had five in the set, and the determination to not get swept lifted The Beach to a third-set victory and kept its national championship hopes alive.

The fourth set proved again that The Beach was not ready to give up.

Long Beach State was in the set the entire way and senior libero Mason Briggs got the crowd to believe in the comeback after a UCLA attack error when he ran around the entirety of the LBSU side of the court with his arms in the air screaming, “Yeah!”

However, The Beach couldn’t gain the lead and back-to-back attack errors that summed up the night secured the fourth set 25-21 in favor of the Bruins and UCLA’s 21st national championship.

The emotion of the loss was painted on the faces of Briggs and Aidan Knipe in the post-game press conference. Both had blank stares toward the back wall when not actively answering questions and you could see the remanence of the tears they had just shed.

“A lot of the sadness or the emotion comes from I think just Long Beach, these guys, the team and just the gratitude for this place and everyone that has done so much for me and for this team and this program,” Briggs said.

Long Beach State men's volleyball senior outside hitter Nathan Harlan cries after defeat against UCLA in the NCAA National Championship game. This concludes Harlan and other seniors on the team's careers as players for the Beach.
Long Beach State men's volleyball senior outside hitter Nathan Harlan cries after defeat against UCLA in the NCAA National Championship game. This concludes Harlan and other seniors on the team's careers as players for the Beach. Photo credit: Naoki Gima

It was an all-around team effort by the Bruins with four players having nine or more kills. The team effort became more evident when Speraw said in the post-game press conference that he did not know that senior outside hitter Ethan Champlin had won the tournament MVP.

“There’s a phrase that goes: all gave some and some gave all, and I didn’t have anything left to give in that fourth set,” Champlin said.

Speraw described this UCLA team as “sewer rats” because sewer rats’ immune systems are “conditioned to the things that really matter” and nothing bothers sewer rats.

The rockus crowd did not bother UCLA on Saturday at the Walter Pyramid; as a result, they walked out as national champions.

This story was edited to edit a caption on May 4, 2024.

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