Long Beach State falls to No. 11 UCLA in five-set thriller

The ‘Niners narrowly miss upsetting the Bruins at the Pyramid.

Long Beach State falls to No. 11 UCLA in five-set thriller

UCLA celebrates a point over the 49ers during Wednesday's game.

The Long Beach State women’s volleyball team came within a point of defeating No. 11 UCLA four times, but the 49ers couldn’t close it out and fell to the Bruins in five sets.

In a match that went into extra points in three of five sets, the 49ers lost 28-26, 28-30, 25-19, 22-25 and 14-16 against the toughest opponent they’ve faced all season.

“We played hard, but we made silly mistakes,” head coach Brian Gimmillaro said.

More than 1,500 49er and UCLA faithful turned out for the match, which started with both teams trading points in the first set.

There were many long rallies early on, with several of the points going to The Beach. Freshman middle blocker Joy Miley came through with a pair of clutch points late in the set, as a put-back kill and a block led the 49ers to a 28-26 win to open the match.

LBSU started off slowly in the second set and trailed 3-1 early on, but it went on a 5-1 run to take the lead and force UCLA to call timeout. The teams exchanged points while the 49ers kept a nervous two-point lead for most of the rest of the set, but the Bruins fought back to tie it at 24.

After an LBSU timeout, the 49ers scored to create another set-point scenario, but UCLA answered once again. This happened two more times until UCLA scored three straight to win the second set 30-28 and even the match at one set apiece.

“When you have game point and you serve out of bounds, you pass it over to them, and all they have to do is tap it down,” Gimmillaro said. “It’s not the best thing to have happen.”

Despite missing a great chance to go up two sets to none, the 49ers battled back with a relatively easy win in the third set to regain the advantage. Middle blocker Chisom Okpala had seven kills and one block to lead the 49ers to a 25-19 victory in the set.

With the LBSU women’s soccer and men’s volleyball teams in attendance, the 49ers looked to seal a victory in the fourth set.

The Beach held an early advantage over the Bruins, as they led 5-4 after Okpala glanced a ball off the net for a kill. But UCLA won five of the next six points, and the 49ers were left playing catch-up for the remainder of the set. LBSU came within two points toward the end, but UCLA ultimately won 25-22.

The 49ers’ subpar performance from set four bled over into the fifth and final set, as UCLA jumped out to an 8-4 lead.

Gimmillaro called timeout and the 49ers came out with a new energy, reducing their deficit to one.
With the Bruins up 11-10, the teams exchanged points until the 49ers tied it at 14.

The Walter Pyramid filled with chants rooting on the ‘Niners, but the rather strong group of UCLA fans got the final cheer, as the Bruins won each of the next two points to take the set and the match.

Despite being so close to an upset victory just two weeks after losing a very winnable match to Air Force, Gimmillaro didn’t have anything to offer in terms of silver linings.

“Both teams played at a similar pace, and then we made some huge mistakes,” he said.

Okpala led The Beach with 18 kills on the night. Bre Mackie, Delainey Aigner-Swesey and Alex Reid also totaled double-digit kills, and Miley finished with six blocks, including two solo blocks.

The 49ers will return to the Walter Pyramid on Friday for the start of the Long Beach State Baden Classic. They will face Cal State Bakersfield at 11 a.m. before taking on Oregon State at 7:30 p.m. later that night.

The tournament will conclude with a match against Prairie View A&M at 7 p.m. on Saturday.