When women’s volleyball head coach and legend Brian Gimmillaro announced his retirement two seasons ago, many wondered what was next for the program.
Cue Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer, a protégé of Gimmillaro’s, an experienced assistant coach and Athletic Director Andy Fee’s second hire. After years of groundbreaking performances under Gimmillaro, both Fee and McKienzie-Fuerbringer had rising expectations.
However, the laws of sports are similar to the laws of gravity, and what goes up must come down. The first season under McKienzie-Fuerbringer was a disappointment, filled with frustrating losing streaks and an injury-plagued team.
She may have gotten a pass for last year since she was coaching a group she hadn’t recruited herself, but with seven new players this season, including a promising senior transfer, it is the time for McKienzie-Fuerbringer to prove herself.
The team got off to a better start this year, but even with a mostly new roster, it’s still showing the same inconsistencies from last season. Sure, there’s no nine-game losing streak, but just eight games in and the team is showing the same pattern of coming out strong the first and second set then quickly unravelling, unable to respond to changes from its opponents.
Even in winning games such as the five-set match against Texas Tech, the players display moments of cohesive play that are often followed by amateur mistakes that end up costing them unnecessary extra sets.
No one is expecting McKienzie-Fuerbringer to bring the team back to the NCAA championship this season, but being competitive in the Big West would be good enough. In order to do that, some major changes need to take place quickly.
The main adjustment has to be with the lineup. Long Beach has seven outside hitters on its roster, yet junior libero Hailey Harward has been playing the outside hitter position this season.
Harward led the team in digs last season at the libero position at 3.65 per set and was named to the All-Big West First Team. With such a strong defensive skill set, there’s no reason for Harward to be one of seven outside hitters.
Another flaw in the outside hitter rotation is the limitation of minutes for senior Megan Kruidhof. She led the team with 3.18 kills per set last season, yet has received some of the least minutes of the outside hitters.
McKienzie-Fuerbringer might be trying to break in the freshman outside hitters first, but the young players can learn to handle high pressure situations from Kruidhof, just as freshman libero Carly Hill can learn from Harward’s experience. They’re certainly not gaining any in-game help from the ever so stoic coaching technique of McKienzie-Fuerbringer. She doesn’t coach like her reputation is on the line, and the apathetic, Phil Jackson-esque look only works if the team is winning.
The losses might sting a little less for fans if McKienzie-Fuerbringer looked more upset than them.
Long Beach is currently at a .500 record and has some tough matches coming up, beginning with UCLA next Thursday. If McKienzie-Fuerbringer is able to pull off some upsets in the coming weeks, she has the perfect opportunity to show the program what she’s made of.