Men's Sports, Men's Volleyball, Sports

No. 3 Long Beach State falls to No. 2 UC Irvine in SoCal showdown

Anyone who unknowingly stumbled into the Walter Pyramid on Saturday night would’ve been greeted with a bare-knuckle clash between two of the nation’s best volleyball teams.

No. 3 Long Beach State (14-4, 12-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) fell to second-ranked UC Irvine (15-4, 12-4 MPSF) three games to one in a match that had both teams utilizing their key hitters to the fullest.

“It became kind of a heavyweight fight out there,” head coach Alan Knipe said.

Leading the 49ers were Taylor Crabb, who ended the night with a game-high (and career-high) 24 kills, and Dalton Ammerman, who finished with 13 kills of his own.
UCI’s Kevin Tillie and Jeremy Dajno combined for a whopping 44 kills on the night to lead the Anteaters.

The first two sets of the night were won by UCI, 25-22 and 29-27. While the 49ers always stayed in contention, there were crucial moments in both sets when they were unable to convert.

“There were a lot of small plays at the end of the first two sets that we didn’t execute very well on,” Knipe said. “We weren’t fully taking care of one play before we were onto the next play because we wanted to kill the ball. It was just a few plays that I’m sure the guys on our team wish they could have back.”

The third set saw LBSU jumping out to an early 8-4 lead with kills from Crabb, Ammerman and Taylor Gregory, who finished with seven kills and three blocks.

The ‘Niners were able to maintain their lead, although kills from UCI’s Dejno and Tillie helped narrow the gap. Then a controversial call that went against LBSU brought UCI to within a point of the 49ers.

Senior Colton Echave added a kill of his own to give LBSU a 23-21 boost, but Tillie fired back for UCI on the next play with a lob kill and closed the gap to 23-22.

The difference for ‘Niners down the stretch was Crabb as he contributed a pair of kills, including one that gave LBSU a set point after an exhausting rally.

The Walter Pyramid was re-energized after the ‘Niners won the set 25-23.

Set number four was another neck-and-neck battle, but it ultimately saw UCI pulling away in the latter stages.

Both teams were unable to pass as effectively as they had in the first three sets, but UCI’s defensive efforts were enough to give it a 25-22 set win and steal a 3-1 match win from the ‘Niners.

Although the match didn’t showcase the prettiest volleyball, the effort and energy levels of both teams were unquestionably high.

For the 49ers, it came down to the fact that they were unable to convert on vital points that swung the first two sets in favor of the Anteaters.

“A swing here or there and that match is completely different,” Knipe said.

Knipe said he was proud of his team’s effort against the Anteaters but that effort isn’t quite enough when playing a high-caliber team like UCI.

“You play the defending national champs, and they’re going to make you earn it,” Knipe said.

At this point in the season, the ‘Niners will be looking to put Saturday night’s loss behind them and focus on their upcoming games.

“I feel really good about how good they actually want to get and how hard they are willing to work to be as good as they can be by the end of the year,” Knipe said. “I’m proud of what the guys are doing, but nobody, including me, is content with where we are.”

LBSU will continue its eight-game home stand when it takes on UCLA Wednesday night at the Walter Pyramid.

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