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Men’s volleyball preps for NCAA tournament semifinal vs. Long Beach State

Redshirt junior opposite Kevin Kobrine serves in a match against Pepperdine on Tuesday. Kobrine tallied a team-high 16 kills in the opening round to help UCLA men’s volleyball advance to a semifinal matchup with No. 1 seed Long Beach State. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin)

men's volleyball


No. 1 seed Long Beach State
Thursday, 5 p.m.

Pauley Pavilion
NCAA Live Stream

By Bryan Palmero

May 4, 2022 10:35 p.m.

A season-series rubber match will take place in the NCAA tournament.

UCLA men’s volleyball (22-4, 11-1 MPSF) will take on No. 1 seed Long Beach State (20-5, 8-2 Big West) in the National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship semifinal on Thursday evening at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins and the Beach have split their two regular-season meetings, playing back-to-back contests in February.

Playing at Walter Pyramid on Feb. 11, UCLA took its quickest defeat of the season after being swept in just over 90 minutes. In the rematch at the John Wooden Center on Feb. 19, the Bruins survived a comeback from the Beach to prevail in five sets.

In the latter matchup, Long Beach State was without its starting setter, Aidan Knipe, due to illness. Without Knipe, the Beach recorded a .286 hitting percentage – 65 points below their season average.

With Knipe healthy and active for Thursday’s contest, coach John Speraw said his team knows the weight of its previous victory and will be prepared for the Beach’s setter.

“Aidan’s been their guy the entire season, … (and) we caught them on a night when he was sick,” Speraw said. “But we’re taking a look at the last number of matches so Aidan’s out there setting (on film).”

Despite Long Beach State’s decreased hitting percentage in its defeat, outside hitter Alex Nikolov led the match in kills with 19. Nikolov, who leads the country in service aces per set and sits in the top three in kills per frame, has led his team in kills in 22 out of 25 matches as a freshman.

Sophomore outside hitter Ethan Champlin said the Beach’s outside attackers, including Nikolov, are a threat UCLA will have to address.

“They just got some pretty elite-level pins – Nikolov and Clarke (Godbold),” Champlin said. “They also have some pretty good middles too. They run a really fast tempo and so it’s hard to block.”

Alongside Long Beach State’s wealth of talent on the court, redshirt junior opposite Kevin Kobrine added that its chemistry cannot be overlooked.

“There’s definitely no doubt that they’re an extremely talented team at each position,” Kobrine said. “In the playoffs, it’s a lot about passion. It’s a lot about heart, a lot about energy. It’s going to be tough to match that.”

Unlike the team’s two previous contests, Thursday’s match will take place at Pauley Pavilion, a venue the Bruins hold a 9-1 record in this season. At the time, the contests at the John Wooden Center and Walter Pyramid featured the most spectators at a UCLA home and away match, respectively.

Ahead of his team’s semifinal contest, Kobrine said he believes attendance numbers will spike in a win-or-go-home situation.

“I wouldn’t expect anything less than nearly sold out,” Kobrine said.

The Bruins will serve off against the Beach at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

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Bryan Palmero | Sports senior staff
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student at UCLA.
Palmero is a senior staff writer for Sports. He served as the assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats from 2021-2022 and a reporter on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats in 2021. He is a third-year mathematics and economics student at UCLA.
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