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There was an electric atmosphere in the Walter Pyramid Friday night. It was evident that most fans had “Long Beach State vs UCLA” circled on their calendar for months, with a raucous sell-out crowd that was the third-biggest in men’s volleyball program history, as more than 4,300 fans packed the building.
Fueled by the atmosphere, No.1 Long Beach State did not disappoint, using aggressive offense and resilient defense to overpower No.4 UCLA 22-25, 25-21, 27-25, 25-19 in a thrilling matchup.
“These are the nights these guys will remember for the rest of our lives,” said LBSU head coach Alan Knipe. “The packed energy, the filled arena, this is what young college athletes dream of playing in.”
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A massive turning point in the match was when UCLA inadvertently ran out of substitutions late in the second set, stranding them with setter Andrew Rowan stuck on the bench. At the time they were up 1-0 in the match and looking to go up 2-0. LBSU service sub Nathan Harlan immediately realized what had happened and looked over to Knipe on the bench to tell him he was going to take some heat off his serves and make sure they were in bounds, to force UCLA to try and score without their setter on the floor.
It was a massive and surprising error for the Bruins.
“We had to make sure they earn everything, I thought Nathan Harlan did a great job,” said Knipe. “He made sure he put four serves in in a row to give us that opportunity. As soon as it happened everyone on our side knew exactly what the gameplan should be.”
The Beach pulled away to win a close set 25-21 to even the match at 1-1.
The Beach were led by Sotiris Siapanis, who had a team-high 18 kills along with 2 aces and 6 digs. Siapanis was efficient on both sides of the net all night long, giving the extra effort to keep balls in play and being extra aggressive offensively against UCLA’s physical blockers.
“Just continued to play my role in the system,” said Siapanis. “We knew this game was gonna be tough on both ends so I was prepared to take some big swings and be aggressive, not have any regrets at the end of the game.”
Skyer Varga was also key for the Beach, recording 15 kills along with 5 digs and 2 blocks.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re gonna play our brand of volleyball,” said Varga. “We’re building a beast throughout the season and will continue to do that.”
Knipe credits Varga for his willingness to come back from injury last season and switch positions from the left side to the right side, something he believes has helped him deliver special performances like tonight.
“He missed all last year, he came back and we immediately asked him to change positions,” said Knipe. “There’s a level of grit that comes with that, and I continue to see good things from him on the right side: high ball swings, ability to hit with tempo, great passing, and big-time blocking.”
Other big performances from Beach players include Clarke Godbold contributing 12 kills and a team-high 3 aces while also maintaining strong defense with 5 blocks. Simon Torwie and Mason Briggs led the way on the defensive end, with Torwie recording 6 blocks and Mason Briggs leading the Beach with 11 digs.
“We had a real desire to play defense tonight,” said Knipe. “Our digs were fantastic, we were able to get lots of transition opportunities and be efficient at converting those opportunities.”
Setter Aidan Knipe set a sharp match, as the Beach hit .440 on balls set by their senior captain, and hit .286 in the match to UCLA’s .214.
It was a back-and-forth affair all game, with both teams essentially trading points throughout the entire game. However, Knipe considered serving as the difference maker that led the Beach to victory. The Beach missed eight serves and served just .652 in their Set 1 loss, however, they improved from the service line following that, missing just six serves through their next 3 sets and finishing with a .847 serving percentage.
“The biggest negative from the game was missing 8 serves in the first set,” said Knipe. But the maturity to continue to hit our serves with pace, and give our guys opportunities to block, that was the key to winning this game.”
Despite the big win, the Beach must rest and recover quickly, as they have another showdown with UCLA on Saturday at the Pauley Pavilion at 6 p.m.
“There’s a lot of meat on the bone for this team,” said Knipe. “We’ll narrow down what we think we can get better at, be prepared for adjustments, and get ready to head on up the 405 freeway and get another win tomorrow.”