The No. 3 Long Beach State men’s volleyball team got off to a slow start at home in the Walter Pyramid against No. 7 USC on Saturday night, but the Beach dug deep and responded in impressive fashion. Freshman Alex Nikolov had yet another career night with 24 kills on .476 hitting to help lead the Beach to a 15-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-19 victory.
“It didn’t look so good at the beginning obviously, but that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of,” said Long Beach State men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe. “The resolve to settle it down and get into our blocking defense. Set one was the perfect storm of everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I give USC a lot of credit, they’re a good team. On our side it takes a lot of grit to have a set like that and be able to turn it around and go from hitting zero in the first set to .548 and .435 and .429 and be real steady.”
Knipe said that he takes blame for the team’s shaky start, and didn’t want it attributed to the Beach being a young squad, with no seniors on the roster and the bulk of the team’s main contributors freshmen and sophomores.
“I think you can want to be too good and overprepared and you really just need to settle down and get into a match,” he said. “As far as the age of our team, teams are only classified as young if they don’t win. We feel like we’re a team that’s getting better and finding our groove and identity.”
USC made it a point to aggressively serve star freshman outside hitter Alex Nikolov, with 25 of their first 47 serves going his way. Nikolov shanked a few and had three receiving errors early in the match. His frustration was visible, but he rebounded to handle the rest smoothly, and never led it affect him offensively. Nikolov once again led the way with 24 kills on .476 hitting, with three aces, two digs, and two blocks.
“There were some balls I want back, and I did get frustrated,” he said. “I try not to let that influence my other elements, just focus on getting a good approach so I can get high and get points.”
After dropping the blowout first set, the Beach broke an 8-8 tie to take a two-point lead on a kill and a block from Nikolov. USC tied it again at 23-23 after an ace but a big kill from Spencer Olivier and another from Clarke Godbold put the set away. The Beach led wire to wire in a comfortable third set, then had their most impressive stretch late in the fourth.
Trailing 17-16 after a 4-0 run by USC, Long Beach ripped off a 9-2 run to close the match, with Nikolov hammering four kills and closing it with an ace.
Setter Aidan Knipe set his team to a .356 attack, including .477 on balls he set. Olivier finished with 12 kills on .429 hitting to go along with 10 digs, while Godbold had eight kills and two blocks. Libero Mason Briggs had 10 digs as well.
Long Beach State (6-1) will be back in action in the Walter Pyramid Friday evening against No. 4 UCLA in a meeting of two of the best teams in the nation.