PALO ALTO, Calif. — With outside hitter Quincy Verdin, setter Nicole Vargas and libero Iris Murray ending their Long Beach State careers, the attention shifts to their replacements.
Luckily for head coach Brian Gimmillaro, freshmen Caitlin Ledoux, Cat Highmark and Lauren Minkel have gained an immense amount of experience in their debut seasons.
Ledoux, a Big West Conference first-team selection and Freshman of the Year, led the 49ers with 389 kills. The outside hitter will also be joined by sophomore Ashley Lee, who’s recovering from a torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in her right knee.
In Vargas’ role, Highmark will make the switch back to her normal setter role after playing at outside hitter this season.
This biggest question may be at the libero position, and the stellar defense anchored by Murray.
Minkel played in all 32 matches and 122 sets, finishing with 232 digs this season. Also listed as a defensive specialist, sophomore Laura Schuck could see an expanded role next season. Schuck appeared in 27 matches, 84 sets, and was primarily used for her serving capability.
LBSU should be set at the middle blocker position, with juniors and All-Big West first-teamers Naomi Washington and Brittney Herzog patrolling the net. Also, fellow junior Ya Chen Wang emerged at the end of the season and could make an even greater impact next season.
Then, with the incoming freshmen class, Gimmillaro should have another competitive team. After 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, I guess it’s not so much rebuilding as it is reloading.
Long Beach product helps Stanford eliminate old friend
Ever play a highly competitive game of anything with a really close friend, and not feel as bad as you probably would if it were somebody else?
That’s probably what it was like for Gimmillaro after seeing Stanford senior outside hitter Cynthia Barboza eliminate his ‘Niners in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Barboza, a Long Beach Wilson High School grad, grew up watching and making flash cards for Gimmillaro’s volleyball teams as a 12 year old.
“I grew up in Brian and Debbie’s office,” Barboza said, alluding to retiring assistant coach Debbie Green. “I’ve been around that program for a long time, so it’s nice to get a chance to play them. I only played them twice in four years.”
Barboza still returns to LBSU and the Walter Pyramid to work out when she’s in the area.
“She still comes around and I ask her what the heck she’s doing here,” Gimmillaro said, cracking a smile.
Barboza said she plans to return to the Walter Pyramid for Christmas.
“I’m sure we’ll talk about the match while we’re on the StairMaster,” she said.