The challenges of adjusting to college can be tough enough, but imagine playing a competitive sport at the same time.
Not only do the five members of the 2010 recruiting class for Long Beach State’s women’s volleyball team have to navigate their way through the campus like the average freshman, they have to also help maintain a program that’s qualified for 23 consecutive NCAA tournaments.
Haleigh Hampton, Delainey Aigner-Swesy, Ashley Vazquez, Chelsea Cabrajac and Kiri Hirini make up the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the nation. Among the quintet comes a pair of foreign imports who also have to adjust to an entirely different culture.
Vazquez comes to The Beach from Colegio Católico Notre Dame in Puerto Rico, while Hirini hails from Tauranga, New Zealand.
Both said that while the volleyball techniques are different, some off-court lifestyle basics in the U.S. have been an adjustment.
“We drive on the opposite side of the road,” Hirini said.
The LBSU style of play — and perks of practice — were quickly introduced to them on this afternoon, when two-time Olympic gold medalist and ex-49er Misty May-Treanor joined the team’s practice like she’s routinely done throughout her career.
“She knows the technique on my side as a setter,” said Vazquez, who also played against the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the alumni game the following day. “It’s a great opportunity because Puerto Rico is not like that — to [learn from] an Olympian and great setter.”
The remaining three players are Southern California natives, with Aigner-Swesy making the furthest commute — a mere 1 hour, 40 minutes away from her hometown of Wrightwood, which is just 11 minutes away from teammate and junior Caitlin Ledoux’s hometown of Phelan. In fact, the duo were teammates at Serrano High School.
On the court, three of the freshmen have immediately received quality playing time and a pair have shined in the starting lineup through the opening weekend.
Hampton and Vazquez, who both started all four matches, were named to the Long Beach State Baden Classic’s all-tournament team and challenged for Most Valuable Player honors. In a five-set battle against No. 25 Saint Mary’s, Vazquez tallied 66 assists and 11 digs while Hampton crushed 21 kills and 12 blocks.
“I thought I was gonna be some freshman on the bench,” Hampton said after the match.
Aigner-Swesy came off the bench and steadily posted a .375 attack percentage or better with limited attempts in three of the four matches.
In addition to volleyball, Hampton and Cabrajac — Huntington Beach and Downey natives, respectively — were prepped for the dreaded task of balancing their schoolwork.
“You’re an athlete going to school. Don’t mess it up getting caught up in other things,” Hampton said.
Cabrajac received similar advice, adding, “If you don’t do it, don’t put in the extra effort, then you’re not going to be anywhere.”
Among the experiences the players were looking forward to most was the travel. However, like any new set of college freshmen, it was a unanimous feeling about the ultimate transition from high school: the classes and study hall.
“Least looking forward to the school part, in general,” Aigner-Swesy said candidly.
Hirini quickly chimed in, “And what are those cards? — Scantrons,” drawing a laugh from her teammates.
On the court, a different kind of class will be in session, and it will be their head coach for the next four years, Brian Gimmillaro, providing the lessons on the Walter Pyramid floor.