IRVINE— Long Beach was reverting back to its old ways, letting UC Irvine hang around like a bad cold by gifting it plenty of points through both hitting and service errors.
The 49ers (20-1, 5-0 Big West) defeated the Anteaters (14-8, 2-3 Big West) in four sets, 25-22, 18-25, 25-18, 25-20, after starting off the first couple of sets on a bad note. Long Beach gave up six service errors and seven hitting errors in the first set alone, but won the first set with the help of senior opposite Kyle Ensing and sophomore middle blocker Simon Andersen who each had five kills within the set.
“I think maybe we were spending too much time talking about what they potentially could do and not worrying about what we were doing,” head coach Alan Knipe said. “[Once we] kind of got worried more about Long Beach than talking about Irvine, we started to play a little bit better.”
In what looked to be like a disaster waiting to happen after Long Beach dropped the second set handily, the 49ers rose to the occasion and responded with aggressiveness on both ends of the floor once the third set began.
“They have a very professional approach and they have a lot of pride in what they do,” Knipe said. They weren’t happy with how they played and they took ownership of it and got right back after it, which is what great teams do.”
After giving up 13 hitting errors and eight service errors through two sets, Long Beach was able to keep the ball in play and apply plenty of service pressure thanks to Ensing and senior outside hitter TJ DeFalco. The two combined for 28 kills, rattling the Irvine defense and eventually leading their team to victory.
“We went back into our huddle after that second set, and we said we just have to go back to playing the way we play volleyball,” Ensing said. “We’re going to push ourselves to keep responding every night and we’re going to look back on that second set and we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Long Beach comes back home to face UC Irvine in a rematch 7 p.m. Saturday inside the Walter Pyramid.