Long Beach State University men’s volleyball star Alex Nikolov became the first player in NCAA history to win National Player of the Year and National Freshman of the Year in his first collegiate season. After a successful debut, Nikolov has announced his departure from CSULB.
The announcement was released on Nikolov’s Instagram page on July 8, thanking the university, staff and fellow players for his experience on and off the court.
Long Beach State Athletics Website revealed in a statement later that day on their website that Nikolov signed a deal with Lube Volleyball in Italy.
The Bulgarian player has been surrounded by volleyball all his life, as his father was a professional volleyball player in Bulgaria, according to a previous article written by the Daily49er.
Nikolov would eventually decide to follow in his father’s footsteps, playing volleyball and even being part of the U19 Bulgarian national team. At 17-years-old, he would attend Long Beach State for the 2021-2022 school year.
“Alex is such a special player. You know, that’s one of the biggest no-brainers of all time in terms of recruiting and wanting somebody to come to your school,” Executive Director of Athletics Andy Fee told the Daily49er.
After winning awards such as the American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Season, Long Beach State men’s volleyball head coach Alan Knipe knew that Nikolov would be looked at by volleyball professionals.
“The teams, the leagues, the offers, the promises, the incentives got to a point that he couldn’t say no and in that situation, all you can be is excited for the kid,” Knipe said.
Knipe knew that Nikolov accepted a deal to play professionally before the Instagram announcement and although he wishes the freshman would play for The Beach longer, he is proud of how far Nikolov has come.
“He’s going to be a starter, he’s going to be paid a lot of money and he’s looking to become not just the best player in the NCAA, but become the best player in the world,” Knipe said.
That connection and relationship is what brought Nikolov to the beach in the first place, Knipe met Nikolov’s father during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Before attending Long Beach State, staff members were looking through Nikolov’s volleyball experience through videos.
“I’ve watched a lot of volleyball in 25 years of doing this job in college athletics and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ve seen a better 17 year old, ever,’ Fee said. “He just came across on video that even at 17 playing up, meaning he was playing guys that were older than him, how good he was.”
Nikolov began collegiate training in fall 2021 and would play during the 2022 season, with the team posting a 21-6 season and an 8-2 post season record.
Long Beach went on to become the runner up in the Big West Men’s Volleyball Championship game, losing to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
Knipe says that losing Nikolov will only change the look of the team for the 2023 season and that the team and its players will become the best they can be.
“Part of a good program is to have guys prep behind [players] to continue to move forward and hopefully create the next NCAA Player of the Year or the next National Championship Team. The goals and aspirations of our program don’t change from year to year,” Knipe said.
While Long Beach State wishes the best for Nikolov and his endeavors in professional volleyball, the current players are prepared to work hard for next season.
“I hope they [players] come in with that focus, that determination, that grit and resolve. If they’re healthy and they put the work in, there’s no reason why we can’t be competing for a National Championship again in May of 2023,” Fee said.