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At tonight’s American Volleyball Coaches Association banquet, Long Beach State freshman outside hitter Alex Nikolov made history as he was named the National Player of the Year. Nikolov, also the National Freshman of the Year and the Big West Freshman of the Year, was named a first-team All-American earlier this week. He’s the first player to win National POY and National Freshman of the Year in the AVCA era.
“What Alex has done this year is incredibly special, he’s a gifted player,” said Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe.
Nikolov, a 6-7 outside hitter, has proven himself the best player in the country this year despite his age–and remarkably, he was only 17 years old when the school year started. He’s played all 93 sets this year for Long Beach State, averaging 4.6 kills per set on .385 hitting, with 57 aces, 1.38 digs per set and .6 blocks per set.
Nikolov is already in the conversation among the best athletes in Long Beach State history. He is the second-ever LBSU freshman to win a National POY honor, alongside legendary Wilson alum and Olympian Tim Shaw, the swimmer who won National POY in 1975. Nikolov is the sixth player in LBSU men’s volleyball history to win the award, but the fourth in the last five seasons.
His skill level is obvious and overwhelming. UCLA coach John Speraw (who is also the USA men’s national team coach) praised him at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“He should be playing in Europe, or I’d prefer he was playing in Europe,” said Speraw with a laugh. “He’s got the arm speed, he grew up watching elite volleyball his whole childhood. He’s got the speed, the size, and the power.”
Nikolov’s skill has led many in the volleyball world to wonder if he’d stay for four years at Long Beach State, but he’s brushed those comments off, talking earlier this season about how he and his parents wanted him to get a college education before he turned professional. Earlier this week, he told the LA Times, “I came here to win four championships.”
This week will be Nikolov’s first time on the NCAA stage, something he was pumped for.
“I’m excited, my first-ever NCAA Final Four,” he said. “It was expected of this team–we wanted to be there and we deserve to be there. And now it’s up for grabs.”
Nikolov is likely to be a starter for Bulgaria’s national team this Summer–with a schedule that could see him face off against Speraw and team USA in June, in his hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria. His elite mindset was obvious when discussing how much fun he had playing in front of 7,000 Hawaii fans earlier this season.
“I’d rather there be 5,000 people who hate me than an empty crowd,” he said. “I’d rather it be 20,000 who hate me. I just love a crowd and when the stands are filled. That gets me going.”
A freshman year NPOY is another way to get going, as Nikolov looks to cap off a historic freshman year with a national title this week. The Beach will face UCLA at Pauley Pavilion Thursday at 5 p.m.–we’ll have live updates from the match.