Long Beach State defeats UC Irvine to reach Big West men’s volleyball final – Daily Breeze



HONOLULU — The top-seeded Long Beach State men’s volleyball team shook off a first-set loss to defeat fifth-seeded UC Irvine in a Big West Tournament semifinal on Friday night, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 29-27, at Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center.

Long Beach (20-4) advances to face second-seeded Hawaii (23-5) in the championship match on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. PT. Hawaii swept third-seeded UC Santa Barbara, 25-18, 26-24, 25-14, in Friday’s second semifinal.

Long Beach, the Big West regular-season champion, won both of its regular-season matches against Hawaii in four sets, but those were both played at LBSU earlier this month. Hawaii is 16-0 on its home court this year.

In addition, Long Beach (2018, 2019) and Hawaii (2021) have combined to win the last three national titles (there was no 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic). Saturday’s winner gets the conference’s automatic berth in the seven-team NCAA Championships, which will be played May 1-7 at UCLA.

Long Beach hit .412 in its victory over UCI, the 18th time this season LBSU has hit .300 or better. Freshman outside hitter Alex Nikolov had a career-high 28 kills (11 in the fourth set) while hitting .558 with four digs, two blocks and two aces. Sophomore opposite hitter Clarke Godbold had 15 kills while hitting .400 with five digs, one block and one ace.

Sophomore setter Aidan Knipe had 53 assists while guiding the efficient offense, and sophomore libero Mason Briggs paced the defense with 16 digs.

UC Irvine (11-16) led most of the first set before Long Beach knotted the score at 18-18 on a Nikolov ace. The Anteaters regrouped to close out the first set, but LBSU started to find its groove.

Long Beach hit .545 in the second set and took a 23-20 lead on back-to-back kills from Nikolov. The Anteaters got within 23-22 before LBSU closed out the set to even the match.

Down 16-15 in the third set, Long Beach brought in Nathan Harlan to serve. The sophomore outside hitter sparked an 8-0 run as LBSU stormed to a 25-19 win.

Harlan continued to provide a spark in the fourth set, but UCI used a 3-0 run to grab an 18-16 lead. After ties at 20-all, 21-all and 23-all, a Hilir Henno kill gave UCI its first set point, but Shane Holdaway followed an LBSU timeout with a kill that extended the frame. Harlan came up with a spectacular roll serve for an ace to give Long Beach a match point as UCI called its final timeout.

Harlan and Henno then traded service errors into the net. UCI’s Francesco Sani saved a second match point with a kill, and Nikolov’s second hitting error of the set, just narrowly wide of the line on the left side, gave the Anteaters a second set point. Nikolov immediately answered with one final kill for a 27-27 tie. Nikolov, Clarke Fodbold and Marc Moody teamed up with a big triple block on Sani, and the drama was over after a third match point as Doug Dahm went into the net on his attack.

Sani led the Anteaters with 21 kills while hitting .304 with six digs, two blocks and an ace. Henno added 14 kills on a .423 attack percentage, while setter Brian Garcia had 42 assists, seven digs and a team-best five blocks. Libero Cole Power had 12 digs. UCI, which defeated fourth-seeded UC San Diego in a quarterfinal on Thursday, hit .367 against Long Beach, its fourth-highest percentage of the season.



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