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The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team has found its midseason form, and impressed with a pair of dominant wins over UCSB on Friday and Saturday. The No. 3 Beach moved into a first-place tie in the Big West with Hawaii; Long Beach State will host the Rainbow Warriors in the Walter Pyramid for a series with huge postseason implications on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Beach dropped the first set of Friday night’s match with the Gauchos, then rallied to win the second, third, and fourth sets in impressive fashion. Long Beach hit .461 in the match, using great serve receive and passing to get into their offense.
“I think you can get caught up the numbers but I just thought (libero Mason Briggs) was spectacular tonight on defense, and the anchor to our defense,” said Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe. Briggs had 13 digs but more importantly was the emotional leader on the floor, especially after the first set loss.
With setter Aidan Knipe freed up to set the ball right at the net, he did a great job of distributing the ball. Freshman Alex Nikolov had 23 kills plus five digs and three blocks, Spencer Olivier had 14 kills, and Clarke Godbold had 14 kills. Middles Shane Holdaway and Marc Moody combined for 12 kills on 16 swings.
More importantly than any stat was the emotion on the floor for the Beach. After a series of matches where they’ve had to summon some energy to finish teams off or failed to--including a five-set loss to UC Irvine--the Beach looked dominant in the victories.
“Those feel good nights come from a lot of work,” said Knipe. “That’s Spencer and Alex and Mason and Clarke passing really well. It all starts there and you start to see the numbers in the offense, but all the credit goes to our passers.”
If the Beach have turned a corner on serve-receive, they’re going to be hard to beat. It’s been obvious in loss to UC Irvine and Penn State that opponents’ hope is to bomb big serves and hope that they stay in and that the Beach struggles to handle them. All teams are good in system, but when Aidan Knipe is distributing to three All-American pin-hitters in Nikolov, Olivier and Godbold, the Beach are virtually impossible to stop.
Winning the serve-receive battle has also allowed their block to get going, as they got 13 blocks on Friday and nine on Saturday in an impressive sweep win at UCSB.
Long Beach State (14-3, 3-1) and Hawaii will play this weekend in what could be the Big West Tournament championship preview.