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Virtually since the moment Alex Nikolov took the court for the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team this year as a star freshman, there were been questions swirling in the volleyball community about how long he’d be wearing the Black and Gold. It was obvious from day one that Nikolov was one of the best players in the country, a view that was validated a few months ago when he became the first player in NCAA history to win National Player of the Year and National Freshman of the Year in a debut collegiate season.
That talk has intensified as Nikolov has excelled for the Bulgarian national team in this summer’s Volley Nations League, proving himself one of the best players in the world. Nikolov announced via his Instagram page on Friday afternoon that he is leaving Long Beach State to turn professional, signing with a professional team in Italy.
“We’re excited for Alex’s future, he’s not only one of the best players in the NCAA he’s one of the best players in the world,” said Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe. “We would have loved to have had him for more than a year but we’re excited for him. These things are not common in men’s volleyball, we’re excited for Alex and his family and we wish him the best. He was an absolute pleasure to coach, he gave his all, and what more can we ask, he won Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year.”
Nikolov, a 6-7 outside hitter, was only 17 years old when the school year started, and won’t turn 19 until November of this year. He 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.
He made history this year as just 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 was the sixth player in LBSU men’s volleyball history to win the award, but the fourth in the last five seasons.
UCLA coach John Speraw (also the USA national team coach) said Nikolov was a next-level player after the Beach beat UCLA in the Final Four.
“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 bid farewell to the Beach in an emotional post on social media today, thanking the Long Beach State coaches and community, and saying that playing for the Beach was the best volleyball year of his life–emotionally and developmentally. He also encouraged recruits from anywhere in the world that Long Beach should be their top destination.
“If you are looking for a true family of support (both on and off the court), mixed with a leadership and coaching staff that will have your best interest at heart at all times, combined with the best training to become the best version of yourself, Long Beach State is the place for you,” he wrote.
Knipe and the Beach return almost every other piece from last year’s national championship runner-up team, but will have big shoes to fill with the departure of Nikolov. Helping to ease that transition will be the presence of 6-foot-5 outside hitter Sebastian Rodriguez, a top recruit in the 2021 class who missed this season with injury.