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Not all losses are created equal, and it’s easy to see why Long Beach State men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe wasn’t shedding too many tears after his team lost their first match in three weeks at UCLA on Saturday. The No. 1-ranked Beach, who swept the No. 2 Bruins the previous week in the Walter Pyramid, were without their starting setter. Despite that, Long Beach State pushed No. 2 UCLA to the limit at the Wooden Center Saturday before falling 20-25, 23-25, 25-23, 25-21, 12-15.
Starting setter Aidan Knipe was unavailable to play in the match due to a (non-COVID) illness, and was ruled out a few hours prior to the match.
“The adversity our guys had to deal with, they learned at lunchtime their starting setter’s not going to set for them,” said coach Alan Knipe. “The way they responded was great, with zero opportunities to work on anything with this lineup…there’s no moral wins but I wouldn’t be any prouder of these guys if we’d won tonight.”
The loss followed a week where a chunk of the team’s starters had been unavailable to practice due to illness, and Knipe said he learned a lot about his team watching them battle in a sold-out Wooden Center to come back from down 2-0 to lose a fifth set.
“I’m super proud of the week we had with some guys being out, guys out tonight, and to put that kind of grit together, that’s what it’s all about for our program,” he said. “So we’ll get back in the gym and get after next week.”
Backup setter Eric Beebe had 42 assists and set the Beach to a .286 attack. Freshman Alex Nikolov had 19 kills on .300 hitting, three aces, three blocks, six digs, and three assists as well, including a surprise crunchtime backset to Spencer Olivier.
Olivier had 15 kills and five blocks, and Clarke Godbold had 13 kills. Libero Mason Briggs had 12 digs.
For UCLA, a .331 attack percentage was the highlight as setter Miles Partain did a good job of finding holes in Long Beach’s block. The Bruins were led by 13 kills from Ethan Champlin, backed up by 12 from Ido David.
The match could have major seeding implications for the NCAA Tournament, with Long Beach currently No. 1 and UCLA currently No. 2. If it comes down to a tiebreaker in seeding between those two teams, the Beach beat the Bruins in three sets at home, while the Bruins needed five to beat Long Beach in Westwood.
Long Beach State (7-2) will be back in action in the Pyramid this Friday at 7 p.m. against Stanford.