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After a bit of a shaky start, top-seeded Long Beach State (20-4) advanced past UC Irvine (11-16) in the Big West Men’s Volleyball Tournament semifinals on Friday night in Honolulu. The Beach dropped the opening frame, but responded by winning the next three to claim a 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 29-27 victory and advance to Saturday’s championship match.
Freshman Alex Nikolov put on another impressive display, leading the Beach with a match-high 28 kills. His volume didn’t come at the expense of efficiency, however, as Nikolov posted a sparkling .558 hitting percentage with just four errors on 43 swings. Clarke Godbold chipped in 15 kills, Aidan Knipe dished out 53 assists, and Mason Briggs posted 16 digs.
Irvine came out of the gate strong to take an early 6-2 lead in the opening set, but the Beach did fight back to make things interesting. A Nikolov ace brought the score level at 18-all, but Long Beach was never able to gain the lead as the Anteaters held on for the 25-22 win.
Things were even for most of the second set, but LBSU was able to pull away late. Nikolov had the last three kills for Long Beach State down the stretch, including set point to give the Beach a 25-23 win.
UCI appeared poised for a win in set three as they held a 16-13 lead following a Goldbold service error, but the Beach went on an impressive 8-0 scoring run to go up 21-16. Nikolov was again in the middle of the action, putting down four kills while adding a block assist during that scoring run. When the dust settled in set three, the Beach had won 12 of the last 15 points to take a 25-19 win and go up two sets to one in the match.
A couple early kills from Nathan Harlan in the fourth set helped get LBSU out to a 6-2 lead, but the Anteaters refused to go quietly with their season on the line. UCI eventually rallied back for an 18-16 lead in the fourth, and the teams were neck and neck from there. LBSU had a pair of match point opportunities before UCI took a 27-26 lead for a set point of their own.
From there, LBSU put down a decisive 3-0 spurt to finish off the match, getting a kill from Nikolov, a triple block by Nikolov, Godbold and Marc Moody, then an attack error from UC Irvine to end it.
The Beach are now one win away from their second Big West Tournament title, and first since winning the inaugural edition back in 2018. LBSU will await the winner of Friday night’s second semifinal between No. 2 seed Hawai’i and No. 3 seed UC Santa Barbara.
The championship match will be played in prime time in Honolulu, which means a 10:30 p.m. PT start time for those watching on the west coast. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+.