Long Beach State men’s volleyball put on a defensive clinic, taking just two receiving errors, in a 3-1 come from behind win against the Ohio State University Buckeyes on Friday night at the Walter Pyramid.
After losing the first set 26-24, LBSU redshirt sophomore setter Aiden Knipe knew it would take a near-perfect passing display to come back and defeat the No. 9 team in the nation.
“It all comes down to our passing really,” Knipe said about the team’s approach during set two of the game after going down 1-0 to Ohio State. “They’re a really good read-base team and the execution on the passing game from our side freed me up to start putting the ball wherever I wanted to.”
An unexpected focal point in the passing game against the Buckeyes was one of Knipe’s main hitting weapons, freshman outside hitter Alex Nikolov. He would end up finishing the game with a team high of 40 passes. Knipe would go on and finish with 49 total assists and would help five different Beach players finish with five kills against Ohio State.
“We know that teams don’t want to hit to our libero. So that means they’re going to either me or Spenny (redshirt junior outside hitter Spencer Olivier),” Nikolov, an international student from Bulgaria, said. “Today it was going mostly to me so, as you said, 40 receptions, but it doesn’t scare me at all. I’m super happy with the passing, we only took two aces so that’s a great number and I’m happy.”
LBSU head coach Alan Knipe said that it was the ownership his players took after going down 1-0 that helped The Beach reach 5-0 on the season.
“There’s a difference to being executed out of a set and feeling like you self-inflicted and zero disrespect to a really good Ohio State team, we felt like at the end of that set (one), we self-inflicted the loss,” Alan said. “The guys took a lot of ownership that we just need to clean it up, serve-receive well and trust our hitters which we did as the set went on and the execution got better and better.”
The Beach’s hitting percentage improved in sets two and three, and after game four, the hosts ended the night with a .431 hitting total. Sophomore opposite Simon Torwie hit an efficient five of six attempts for a kill while Nikolov’s 24 kills on the night, like his passing, led all players.
The freshman from Sofia, Bulgaria has enjoyed a strong start to his career at LBSU after leading the team in kills four times in the last five games.
“I’m feeling great,” Nikolov said. “Playing at Long Beach, I feel like I’ve done a good job at transitioning because it is different here in this league. I’m feeling great and I hope we can continue this run.”
Up next for The Beach is another home game against the Penn State Nittany Lions tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at Walter Pyramid.