Long Beach State pulls off epic comeback, beat Grand Canyon in NCAA semifinals

Photo by Vinnie Lopes

All-American libero Mason Briggs following a Long Beach State point early in the fifth game cupped his hand to his ear while looking at the crowd.

The fans inside the Walter Pyramid didn’t need much of a prompt to get loud. The 3,786-person crowd primarily comprised of Long Beach State fans had been in a ruckus state for more than hour with the Beach mounting a comeback in the NCAA Tournament semifinals.

Fans seeing Briggs’ call for more noise, though, ratcheted up their intensity even more.

It was as close to pandemonium as possible in a college men’s volleyball environment. It also was just the thing for a team that feeds off its crowd’s energy to receive in the biggest moment of the match.

The No. 2 seed Long Beach State rallied from a two-game deficit as it defeated the No. 3 seed Grand Canyon 24-26, 26-28, 25-18, 25-23, 15-10 in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday in Long Beach, California.

Setter Aidan Knipe guided the Long Beach State offense to out-hit Grand Canyon .326 to .267, including having a match-best .389 attack percentage in the decisive fifth game.

Opposite Skyler Varga finished with a match-high 20 kills to help Long Beach State reach its fourth NCAA Tournament finals in the last six years. Varga’s final kill of the match also jump started a 4-0 Long Beach State run to close out the match.


Vargas was one of two Beach players with double-digit kills. Outside attacker Sotiris Siapanis added 16 kills against Grand Canyon.

Outside attacker Nthan Harlan coming off the bench also had eighth kills on a .500 attack percentage, while middle attacker DiAeris McRaven added nine kills and hit .583.

Middle attacker Simon Torwie led all players defensively with nine blocks. Torwie entered the match second in the nation with a 1.34 blocks per game average and now has at least five blocks in three matches this postseason.

Torwie also had a match-high three aces with his final ace giving the Beach a three-point lead midway through the fifth game.

Grand Canyon in the loss had four players finish with double-digit kills.

Pin-hitter Camden Gianni in his final college match finished with a team-high 17 kills on a .300 attack percentage. In addition, pin-hitter Jarrett Anderson contributed 16 kills and hit .344.

Long Beach State never trailed in the final game and opened the game on a 3-1 run. Siapanis led all players with four kills in the game, including having the match-winning kill.

Grand Canyon and Long Beach State were tied at 20-20 in the fourth game before the Beach went on a 3-0 run that featured a block and kill from Torwie on back-to-back plays. The Antelopes rallied to cut the deficit to 24-23 but then committed a game-ending serving error.

Torwie in the third game had back-to-back aces to cap off an 8-1 run that gave Long Beach State a four-point lead. Grand Canyon during that Long Beach State run also received a yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Beach limited the Antelopes to a match-low .115 attack percentage in the third game to avoid the sweep.

Long Beach State in the second game fought off two game-points, including a block from Torwie to force overtime for the second consecutive match. Torwie also had a solo block in the overtime to give the Beach a game-point opportunity.

Grand Canyon overcame that Long Beach State game-point with a Jackson Hickman kill. The Antelopes were then able to regain the advantage in overtime and closed out the game with a block from Gianni and Rico Wardlow to take a two-game lead.

The Beach in the first game also rallied back from a 24-20 deficit and fought off four game-points to force an overtime. Middle attacker Cameron Thorne, though, had a kill on the first play in the overtime to end the Beach run and then on the next play had the game-winning kill.

Long Beach State with this victory will advance to play the No. 1 seed UCLA in the NCAA Tournament finals on Saturday.

UCLA defeated the No. 4 seed UC Irvine in five games in the other semifinal match on Thursday.