By Dom Quaranta and Julian Gutierrez
Long Beach State has had a long and illustrious sports history, but the ‘90s were especially impressive in terms of accomplishments, particularly in baseball and volleyball.
For CSULB baseball, the ‘90s was the era of legendary head coach Dave Snow. Snow began coaching for the Dirtbags in 1989 and led the Dirtbags to 18 consecutive wins in a single season. This placed the team first in the Big West Conference, and advanced the team to the College World Series for the first time in the school’s history.
In his first year coaching, Snow was chosen as NCAA coach of the year, which served as the catalyst for his legacy. Snow would lead the Dirtbags to the College World Series three more times in the ‘91, ‘93 and ‘98 seasons, along with six Big West titles.
Among the Dirtbags during the Snow golden age was Kasey Olenberger, who proved to be a dominant closing pitcher for the Dirtbags, with his four-seam fastball and slider change-up. Olenberger played under Snow towards the end of his coaching career, including when Long Beach placed third in the NCAA regionals in 1999.
“I was beyond impressed by the team when I joined Long Beach State,” Olenberger said. “Coach Snow had this aura about him, I could tell right when I joined, and there wasn’t a time that he didn’t demand attention and respect. He was always professional and everybody listened up.”
Olenberger also mentioned John Strauss, a pitching coach who had three separate stints with the Dirtbags, as a significant influence on him. Strauss is entering his fourth season coaching at Baylor, with a total of 20 years of NCAA coaching experience.
For men’s and women’s volleyball, the ‘90s were also an era of success.
Head coach Ray Ratelle was the man at the forefront of the Long Beach State men’s volleyball team, and led it to three conference titles. Ratelle spent 18 years, from 1982-2000, coaching the men’s volleyball team, and in 2003 was inducted into the Long Beach State Hall of Fame.
During the ‘91 season, Ratelle led the team to victory over USC for the NCAA Championship title. Ratelle solidified his legacy with the Beach after receiving the NCAA Coach of the Year award in ‘90 and ‘91. He finished his career with a .670 overall winning percentage.
The women’s volleyball team won the national championship in 1993, reached the Final Four in 1997 and returned in 1998 after an undefeated season to claim another national championship.
At the helm of the 1998 women’s volleyball team was Long Beach legend Misty May-Treanor. May-Treanor was named national player of the year in 1997 and 1998. In 2004, she was inducted into the Long Beach State Hall of Fame.
These championship teams of the ‘90s still have a resounding effect on CSULB sports. Alan Knipe, a key volleyball player during the early ‘90s runs, is the current men’s volleyball head coach and has led the Beach to six Final Four appearances, with back-to-back NCAA titles in 2018 and 2019.
Redshirt junior setter Gary Trejo said the environment of CSULB volleyball mirrors the winning culture put in place years ago.
“The culture has been reiterated by our coaches here for sure,” Trejo said. “It has been enforced by our leaders since I got here…it’s exciting to keep that going for the future.”
Trejo and many others view Knipe as the best of the best. Trejo credits Knipe for bringing him and his teammates to the next level through his advanced understanding of the game.
“He’s even created a different volleyball language that just shows how in depth he understands everything,” Trejo said. “I thought I knew a lot about volleyball, but playing under him and this team has really changed things for me.”
It isn’t just volleyball that is striving to reach the lofty expectations set back in the ‘90s.
“The entirety of the programs here at the Beach have a tight-knit bond,” Trejo said. “We’re all close in this little community of ours and that has…carried over for us. We’re all in here, from top to bottom.”