The Long Beach State women’s volleyball team took care of No. 19 Colorado State in four sets (23-25, 25-20, 25-13, 25-23) on its final regular season match Saturday night at the Walter Pyramid.
The first set saw little defense as the 49ers (25-5, 13-3 Big West Conference) hit .538 while the Rams (22-6, 12-4 Mountain West Conference) attack earned them a .552 hitting percentage as a team.
Hitting errors were held to a minimum in the opening set as both teams combined for just five. LBSU seemed to be the aggressors throughout the set, but a five-point spurt late gave CSU the 1-0 lead.
LBSU’s defense emerged in the second set as they held the Rams to a .147 hitting percentage. The 49ers also cut down on mistakes in the second set as CSU had seven hitting errors to just three for The Beach.
After a somewhat lackluster performance in the first two sets, a different LBSU team emerged from the locker room to start the third.
The 49ers turned up the intensity as they jumped out to an early 6-0 lead with the help of key digs by senior libero Iris Murray, who finished second on the team with 12. The Beach defense held CSU to a -.059 hitting percentage in the set that saw the 49ers lead wire to wire.
Head coach Brian Gimmillaro had a message for his team before the third set.
“I told them ‘we better play hard … we’re not playing hard enough.’ That has always been a symbol of Long Beach State. It’s the reason people come to watch us,” Gimmillaro said.
Junior middle blocker Naomi Washington also had a productive third set, punctuating long rallies with two of her match-high 14 kills.
“When we went into the locker room we challenged each other. We [didn’t] want our fans to remember this game as a boring game,” said Washington, who had a team-high .542 hitting percentage. “We run a fast offense and fight for every play — we’re fast. When we saw that they didn’t want to play, we just took it and ran with it.”
The 49ers didn’t let off the gas in the fourth as they continued to play well in a back-and-forth set that saw four lead changes. The Rams tried to battle back, but in the end CSU came up two points short and LBSU took the contest. CSU hit just .197 for the match, which is close to the .188 percentage the ‘Niners have given up to opponents this season.
The last point in the fourth set was won when the 49ers hit a ball that dropped next to CSU middle blocker Tessa Nelson, who suffered an injury on the play. Nelson is seventh in the Mountain West in hitting percentage, and sixth in blocks. This could potentially be a big blow to the Rams as they go forward into the NCAA Tournament.
Freshman Cat Highmark also contributed nine kills and 10 digs. Fellow freshman standout Caitlin Ledoux pitched in 14 kills to go along with nine digs.
All-Big West first teamer Brittney Herzog did not play in Saturday’s game, but her replacement in the starting lineup Ya Chen Wang filled in well with five kills and 3 digs.
“She needs to play. She deserves to play and she’s good, so I got her in the game,” Gimmillaro said.
The three seniors — outside hitter Quincy Verdin, setter Nicole Vargas and Murray — were honored before the match, as this was possibly the last time the trio would take the floor at the Walter Pyramid.
“Tonight I was fired up because I knew that it [was] my last home game,” Murray said. “My time is running out … for me, there is no more volleyball so I want to win my last game. There’s still eight more games. I’m itching for a national championship.”
“I was really emotional. When we were in the locker room I was tearing up,” said Verdin, who became the 14th player to get 1,000 career kills at LBSU earlier this season. “I actually got sick that is how nervous and excited I was at the same time. But the emotion turned into adrenaline and it helped me out on the court.”
Added Vargas, “It wasn’t like I thought it would be. Every year I’d get a little teary-eyed when the seniors would walk out, but I wasn’t like that. Maybe I’m in denial or I just know that we’re going to move on and play in the playoffs. But I’ve been here for a long time, I’ve grown up here. So it’s a little weird.”
Vargas’ mother is assistant coach Debbie Green, who is retiring after 23 seasons and also was acknowledged before the match.
LBSU will be at Legends in downtown Long Beach on Sunday night to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show. It will air on ESPNU at 7 p.m.