.@lbsumvb plays UCLA TONIGHT! at 5 p.m. in the semi-finals. Our assistant sports editor @omgitsmatthew45 has some information on tonight’s matchup and thoughts from Coach Alan Knipe and players. pic.twitter.com/NaU7Cvungs
— Daily 49er Sports (@D49erSports) May 5, 2022
For the fifth time in eight seasons, Long Beach State men’s volleyball is preparing for a semifinal showdown in the NCAA national championships.
Led by AVCA National Player of the Year, All-American and Newcomer of the Year freshman outside hitter Alex Nikolov, will take on the UCLA Bruins in the Final Four on Thursday, May 5 at 5 p.m. inside UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
“We’re excited to be here, that’s for sure,” LBSU head coach Alan Knipe said. “Our guys are fired up to compete and get out there.”
The appearance will be The Beach’s fifth Final Four and 12th time in program history to be featured in the postseason tournament.
Championship game rematch
In 2018, Knipe coached The Beach to its first national title since 1991 as they defeated the UCLA Bruins three sets out of two. [25–19, 23–25, 20–25, 26–24, 15–12]
The losing team that day, four years ago to the day of this year’s semifinal, was head coach John Speraw’s Bruins.
“Over the course of the last five, six, seven years, in Southern California, it’s been a lot about us and Long Beach,” Speraw said. “These guys play each other in Juniors, they know each other pretty well, great players are aggregating in great institutions and programs that are well-run which makes great matches down the road for fans and that’s what you’re seeing here.”
The Bruins and The Beach split home wins in their two meetings during the regular season.
The teams met back in February when LBSU swept UCLA at the Walter Pyramid. The day after, the Bruins took advantage of a rotated LBSU starting lineup that didn’t include setter Aiden Knipe and defeated The Beach in five sets.
UCLA would finish that game with three attackers in the double-digit kill category.
UCLA Players to Watch
Kevin Kobrine finished Tuesday’s Opening Round with a game-high 16 kills and 27 total attacks. The opposite redshirt junior guided the Bruins to a .437 hitting percentage which continues the team’s live streak of games hitting over .300 to 16 matches.
Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year Miles Partain will be in command of UCLA’s attacks and you can bet the sophomore setter will also keep sophomore outside hitter Ethan Champlain busy with plenty of sets.
Champlain also leads the Bruins with 34 service aces this season.
The Rest of the Pool
Seven teams were invited to Westwood for the postseason showdown with The Beach, the Bruins, the Rainbow Warriors and the Ball State Cardinals still in the hunt for the title.
On the first day, North Greenville University defeated Princeton University in the play-in round while UCLA defeated Pepperdine University and Hawaii defeated North Greenville in the Opening Round two days later.
“It’s going to come down to a lot of teams feeling ‘comfortable’ in that ‘uncomfortable’ when not everything is perfect all the time,” Alan Knipe said. “We take a lot of pride training in that area so now we get to flex it a little bit and look forward to it.”
If they can get past UCLA, LBSU will take on the winner between Hawaii and Ball State in the championship game. The Cardinals defeated Hawaii twice during the regular season, but both wins were on home court. The Rainbow Warriors, a team LBSU has played three times this year, are expecting a different atmosphere for this semifinal.
“I’m sure every team we’re going to see in the Final Four has all those qualities,” LBSU junior middle blocker Shane Holdaway said. “As far as slowing them down, we’re more worried about what our guys do and what our guys bring to the table and how we’re able to compete with them.”
The NCAA Championships continue on Thursday, May 5 with No. 1 Long Beach State vs. UCLA at 5 p.m. and No. 2 Ball State vs. Hawaii at 7:30 p.m. The tournament will end with the title game between the two semifinal winners on Saturday, May 7, live on ESPN2. First serve tossed at 5 p.m.