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They don’t make them much closer than the No. 2 Long Beach State men’s volleyball win over No. 4 Hawaii on Friday night at Walter Pyramid 22-25, 25-23, 26-24, 27-26.
There were 52 tied scores and 16 lead changes while Hawaii took late leads in every set, but LBSU closed strong to get the win thanks to huge nights from Alex Nikolov and Spencer Olivier who combined for 44 kills.
“It was a hard fought match, that’s for sure,” LBSU coach Alan Knipe said. “I love the grit and fight of our team. The resiliency to go out and execute and be composed in big moments.”
The Beach (15-3, 4-1) takes over first place in the Big West Conference with the victory, and will take on Hawaii (18-4, 3-2) again Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Nikolov had a match-high 23 kills and Olivier finished with 21 kills. Clarke Godbold filled the stat sheet with 13 kills, eight block assists and six digs. Libero Mason Briggs had an impressive 17 digs on the back line where the Beach only made one receive error while Hawaii made eight.
“I think it comes down to a play here or there late,” Knipe said. “In the first set we didn’t convert very well. The big difference was cleaning up our ability to dig the ball, get good touches off the block and kill those balls.”
The Beach had an uncharacteristic 26 service errors but also had eight aces. Three of them came from Nathan Harlan who came off the bench to swing the momentum.
“Honestly I think it was the service pressure,” Olivier said of the difference late in sets. “We had serving subs who did a great job.”
The first set, and the match, was incredibly even statistically. LBSU hit .389 and Hawaii hit .393 in the first set while both had two service errors and one ace. The Rainbow Warriors even had five attack errors to LBSU’s three, but the visitors were ahead for most of the set.
Consecutive kills from Chaz Galloway put the visitors up 13-10, and then after LBSU tied the match at 21-21 behind Olivier, a Galloway kill and Demitrios Mouchlias ace put Hawaii up for good. A Spyros Chakas kill clinched the first set victory 25-22. Olivier had eight of the LBSU’s first 13 kills, and Galloway had six kills in the first set but only seven for the rest of the match.
The Beach didn’t miss a beat for the rest of the match thanks to strong leadership from guys like Briggs.
“My job description comes with picking the guys up,” Briggs said. “I’m not the one putting the ball away so I just have to keep them rocking and feeding them with positive energy so we can continue on to the next point.”
There were seven tied scores to start the second set but a string of LBSU errors put Hawaii up by as many as four points. The Rainbow Warriors led 16-12 when Nikolov sparked a comeback. A Simon Torwie block on an overpass put the Beach up 21-20, but Hawaii quickly pulled even. It was 23-23 when Nikolov put down a huge kill and then his service ace gave LBSU the 25-23 second set win.
The third set was extra defensive and as even as the rest of the match. The Beach took a lead behind great play from Nikolov, but Hawaii used a trio of LBSU errors to take a 17-14 lead that forced a Beach timeout. Nikolov and Torwie kills pulled LBSU even, then consecutive service aces from Nathan Harlan put the home side up 22-21. Consecutive kills from Galloway kept the set alive for Hawaii, but a service error and big block got the Beach a 26-24 third set victory.
The Beach held Hawaii to .188 and .293 hitting percentage in the fourth and fifth set. LBSU hit .324 for the match.
“We stuck to our system because we knew they were going to serve tough and we needed to grind it out,” Olivier said. “We just stuck to what we know best and fought through it.”
In the fourth set, LBSU pulled away 10-8 thanks to a Hawaii service error but kept the visitors in it with service errors of its own. Hawaii pulled even 15-15 thanks to a Guilherme Voss kill and double contact at the net.
It looked like the Rainbow Warriors were going to force a fifth set when they led 20-18 in the fourth set, but a Godbold and Nikolov kills off the block tied it 20-20. LBSU took the lead on a Hawaii error, and after both teams fended off set point, a back row kill from Nikolov and an overpass kill from Olivier gave the Beach the set and the match 27-25.
“We want (Nikolov and Olivier) to be involved in all six rotations,” Knipe said. “(Setter Aiden Knipe) does such a good job running our offense. He has to make that decision based on the pass. What you’re seeing is two guys working really hard to stay involved in the offense and are having good nights. When the setter has a lot of confidence he’s looking for them. They’re just two big sticks you want to set the ball to.”
LBSU will take on Hawaii again on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Walter Pyramid and Knipe wants his team to maintain this momentum.
“We need to feel like it’s halftime right now and get ready for the third quarter,” he said.