The seniors bid farewell to their teammates and coaches, and it was finally over — a season filled with loss, change and failed expectations drew to an end on Nov. 18.
All eyes were on the Long Beach State women’s volleyball team this season after finishing second place in the Big West Conference last year. The team also hired new head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer following Brian Gimmillaro’s retirement after 32 years of coaching at the Beach. McKienzie-Fuerbringer had big shoes to fill, but was ready for the challenge.
“Brian created one of the best volleyball programs in the country and it’s my job to continue his legacy,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.
LBSU (10-19) senior setter Alexis Patterson was a key addition to the 49ers, joining senior middle blocker Ashley Murray and sophomore libero Hailey Harward to lead the team to the NCAA tournament. Sophomore middle blocker YiZhi Xue was also coming off an impressive first campaign with Long Beach, and everything seemed to be going in the right direction.
“We all came in and understood that we had the talent and determination to win the tournament,” Harward said.
The stars looked to be aligned, but right before the start of the season, Murray suffered a concussion that would throw off the whole rotation. The chemistry was off, which was apparent as the 49ers would lose 11 of the first 12 to start the season.
Players looked frustrated on the court, missing easy digs and communicating poorly on the floor. Early on in the season, it would take the team almost two sets to find a rhythm that worked. Every game had a different lineup, which led to more confusion and ultimately bad play.
As soon as the team began to build some kind of identity, sophomore middle blocker Kjersti Norveel suffered a knee injury that would sideline her for the rest of the season.
The 49ers only choice was to play the next woman up. Junior outside hitter Megan Kruidhof stepped up, becoming the team’s go-to player on the offensive side, while freshman middle blocker Radi Marinova proved to be a viable piece for the 49ers.
“We all had to step up and do our part to help the team,” Kruidhof said. “Everyone came to games ready to be called into play.”
In the middle of the season, Harward would be moved to the outside hitter position, after playing her last year as a libero.
“I played my whole life as an outside hitter, so to come back to it was fun,” Harward said. “I had to do whatever it took to get the team to win.”
The 49ers found some success at home, finishing with a positive record— but the road would not be as friendly to the team who drop 12 of its 14 matches outside the Pyramid.
The whole season was an uphill battle, yet when it came to conference play the team was energetic. The starting lineup finally began to mesh and show spurts of coherence. Inconsistency still came and went, but it was a step in the right direction that would propel the 49ers to end their season on a positive note. The highlight of the season would unfold at the very end when the team completing a three-game winning streak against conference opponents.
What started as a hopeful season ended as a wakeup call for every player on the team. With Murray and Harward returning next season, the team look to bounce back and make a run in the tournament with a plethora of young talent backing them up. If everyone stays healthy, the 49ers have a definite shot at winning the Big West.