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Long Beach State Volleyball

Long Beach State Volleyball Drops Season’s First Match at UCLA

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The Long Beach State men’s volleyball team caught its first loss of the season, as the unanimous No. 1-ranked Beach were unable to complete a back-to-back series sweep of UCLA. A  night after beating the Bruins at the Walter Pyramid, the Beach looked poised to repeat the feat, before a stretch of poor execution in the third set doomed them in a four set defeat, 29-27, 27-29, 25-19, 25-20.

The match was tied 1-1 with the Beach leading midway through when a couple of plays went awry, and the Bruins seized momentum.

“It was a little bit of a lack of execution on a couple of key plays, transition opportunities, and some unfortunate plays–you get a net, and we kind of let the momentum get back to them,” said LBSU coach Alan Knipe. “It would have been nice to keep that going our way. And that stretch, it got a little chaotic and that kind of cost us that set.”

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The first set was tight, with both coaches exhausting their timeouts. Long Beach State fell behind late as UCLA took a 24-22 lead, but the Beach scored on a service error and then a massive solo block by freshman middle blocker Lazar Bouchkov to tie it. The teams went back and forth with Bruins service errors helping let the Beach back in. Long Beach would fight off five set points before ultimately falling 29-27. UCLA middle blocker Merrick McHenry had five kills on eight swings with no errors in a dominant opening-set effort.

The Beach jumped out to an early lead in set two as they took a 9-5 lead. The Bruins steadily marched back behind strong service from Ido David and ultimately forced a Beach timeout after tying it 13-13. A kill from Clarke Godbold put the Beach back on top by a point and then he doubled the lead with a solo block on the next point. The Bruins would tie it up again at 17 after two straight points, and then took a lead on an ace from setter Andrew Rowan. The two teams tied again at 20 but a Beach service error gave UCLA a 21-20 lead, and then a Grant Sloane ace forced a Beach timeout down 22-20. The Beach tied it up again on a pair of kills by Sotiris Siapanis, then they tied again on 23 on a kill by Bouchkov. 

The Bruins took a 24-23 lead on the rally of the night, sending it back five times on Beach attempts before one finally fell down. The Beach fought off set point with a kill by Skyler Varga, and another time on a block by Simon Torwie. The score was tied again at 26-26 after a UCLA service error, but a Varga error put them in a hole again; Torwie killed one to knot it at 27, and then a triple block put the Beach up 28-27 and prompted a UCLA timeout. A UCLA hit went long to give the set to the Beach, and a UCLA touch challenge was unsuccessful, evening the match at 1-1.

The third set was the first “normal” frame of the evening as the Bruins took a lead midway through and never looked back, going on to win it 25-19 as they outhit the Beach .438 to .176. The Bruins were in control in the fourth set and took it to take the match and hand the Beach their first defeat.

“The big difference for us is, we both missed about the same number of serves, but we got aced five more times,” said Knipe. “When the margins are as close as they are, that’s a big difference. We need to get better in that area.”

Grand Sloane had 16 kills to lead UCLA, who had four players with double digit kills. Long Beach was led by 15 kills from Godbold and 13 from Siapanis. Skyler Varga, who was outstanding in Friday’s win, had nine kills on just .103 hitting and the Beach only hit .238 in the match, to UCLA’s .301.

The Beach (10-1) will be back in action hosting the Long Beach State Tournament this weekend, with matches on Friday and Saturday.

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.