Long Beach State Volleyball

Long Beach State Volleyball Drops Five-Set Match to Penn State

The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team was dealt its first loss of the season in a tightly-played thriller against Penn State Saturday evening in the Walter Pyramid. It was fitting that the match was so even as the Beach entered the night ranked No. 3 in the nation, while they Nittany Lions were No. 4. Long Beach State’s inexperience showed late in the match as Penn State middle blocker Toby Ezeonu had 16 kills on 17 swings in a 27-25, 25-21, 25-20, 23-25, 11-15 win over Long Beach.

“That’s probably 100% on me,” said LBSU coach Alan Knipe on Ezeonu’s big night. “Some of the calls we made, we probably should have tried to get on him a little earlier in the match. We were doing good in some other areas, getting on some of the other guys who’ve been carrying them. There’s some other things we could have done there. I make those calls ultimately and it was probably too little, too late.”

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The middle of the net bit Long Beach on both sides as the Beach were unable to stop Ezeonu (whose previous career high was eight kills), and were also unable to activate their own middles, with just three kills combined from Shane Holdaway and Simon Torwie.

“We like to say we’ll set anyone anywhere at any time and it didn’t feel like that very often tonight,” said Knipe.

The Beach hit .260 in the match, a low on the year and a big dip for a team that’s one of the best in the nation at team hitting. The biggest reason for that dip was Penn State absolutely ripping serves all night, and the Beach struggling to handle them smoothly and stay in system. It was perhaps a desperate strategy for a Penn State team reeling from three straight losses to USC, UCLA, and UCSB, but it was a winning one, too.

“We knew they’d come in with a response and that was their gameplan,” said LBSU libero Mason Briggs. “If they can get us on the endline, I feel like that’s the only way they can kind of get on us. They ripped and they didn’t miss a lot and they kept that pressure on…that was the first time we’ve faced a lot of service pressure on the other side.”

The Beach had a chance late in the fourth set to win it but couldn’t execute at the end of the frame, and then fell behind on more firepower from Ezeonu in the fifth. Despite the setback for the Beach, Knipe said he was happy his team got to play in a big match. Knipe assembled the nation’s toughest schedule with matches against 10 of the top 15 teams in the country.

“The schedule is on purpose, the schedule is for growth,” he said. “We’re trying to be the best volleyball team we’re capable of being at the end of the season. There’s going to be ups and downs, there’s some guys out there without a lot of experience.”

The Beach were led by Alex Nikolov’s 23 kills as well as 19 from Spencer Olivier. Clarke Godbold had 13 kills and eight blocks. Setter Aidan Knipe had 52 assists and the Beach hit .460 on balls he set.

Penn State was led by Ezeonu’s big match, as well as 18 kills from Brett Wildman and 15 from Cal Fisher.

Long Beach State (5-1) will be back in action Friday night in the Pyramid against USC.

VIDEO: Long Beach State vs. Penn State, Men’s Volleyball

PHOTOS: Long Beach State vs. Penn State, Men’s Volleyball

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.