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UCLA men’s volleyball takes down Long Beach State at home in top-2 matchup

Redshirt freshman middle blocker Guy Genis goes up for an attack against the Beach on Saturday. Genis had 11 kills in UCLA men’s volleyball’s victory over Long Beach State. (Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)

MEN'S VOLLEYBALL


No. 1 Long Beach State2
No. 2 UCLA3

By Johan Chua

Feb. 21, 2022 12:25 p.m.

In their first match against the Beach, the Bruins were swept in enemy territory.

But in the second showdown between the nation’s top-two teams, the blue and gold emerged victorious in Westwood.

Then-No. 2 UCLA men’s volleyball (8-2) defeated then-No. 1 Long Beach State (7-2) in five sets Saturday evening at the John Wooden Center after suffering a 3-0 loss in the two team’s first meeting in Long Beach on Feb. 11. The rematch drew in a crowd of 2,008 spectators — the Bruins’ largest home attendance of the season.

After playing the previous match on the road, sophomore setter/opposite Miles Partain said the overwhelming enthusiasm and support from the Bruin faithful at home was exciting for his team.

“The fans were great,” Partain said. “You could feel the energy, which helped us a lot.”

Unlike the first match of the season series, UCLA picked up set victories early, taking the opening period 25-20. Back-to-back kills from sophomore outside hitter Ethan Champlin secured the second frame 25-23 and gave the Bruins a 2-0 contest lead. However, Long Beach State was able to rally back, taking the third and fourth sets by scores of 25-23 and 25-21, respectively.

Coach John Speraw said he turned to his bench midway through the fourth period to regain momentum. After not playing up to that point in the match, redshirt junior opposite Kevin Kobrine and redshirt senior middle blocker J.R. Norris IV were substituted into the contest, where they combined for seven kills on the night.

“I’ve been using the bench all season long, and I’m not afraid to do so,” Speraw said. “This is the deepest team I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

The fifth set was a neck-and-neck battle, resulting in a 9-9 tie midway through the decisive frame. That was until a kill from Kobrine sparked a 6-3 run that propelled UCLA to victory.

Champlin finished with a team-high 13 kills and seven digs. Behind him in points was redshirt freshman middle blocker Guy Genis, who tallied 11 kills on a .667 hitting percentage to go along with five total blocks.

According to Genis, limiting Long Beach State outside hitter Alex Nikolov’s attacks played a crucial role in the Bruins’ early successes. In the victory, UCLA contained the career .387 pin hitter to a .300 hitting percentage, the second-worst performance of his career.

Throughout the match, the Bruins repeatedly served to Nikolov, forcing two reception errors from the outside hitter.

“That was one of the keys that we came with,” Genis said. “He’s one of their best hitters. We knew if we wanted to do better, we had to serve Nikolov to get him passing poorly and slow him from attacking.”

With this contest marking one of their last nonconference matchups this season, Speraw said the Bruins are now looking ahead to conference play.

“There’s a lot of room to improve. We’re not we’re not where we need to be,” Speraw said. “But the framework of talent that we have and depth should get us to a place where we’re going to be a pretty good volleyball team at the end of the year.”

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Johan Chua | Sports contributor
Chua is currently a Sports contributor on the men's volleyball beat.
Chua is currently a Sports contributor on the men's volleyball beat.
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