Sophomore Hailey Harward only has one thing in mind: win a national championship for the Beach.
The Long Beach State women’s volleyball season ended with a 10-19 record, and now she must wait another year.
“I expected us to be undefeated in conference, easily making it into the tournament,” Harward said.
It is the halfway point of the marketing major’s collegiate career, and her goals are still out of reach. Harward would average 1.1 kills, 3.65 digs and almost a full block per set this season. The 19-year-old was a major contributor for the team on both ends of the floor.
Her personal goals included being named an All-American Libero, but in the middle of the season she was moved to the outside hitter position where she had played in her youth. The nerves kicked in at first, but as soon as she got her first kill, she remembered why she had fallen in love with the sport.
Harward became a threat in the outside hitter position, and would produce a career-high 21 kills and 11 digs against UC Riverside on Nov. 10.
“It’s impressive when a libero can go out and play outside hitter at a high level and quickly become a threat,” head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.
Without thinking twice, she took on the role and finished the year with 120 kills.
“I came here to play libero, but sometimes you have to adapt to the environment,” Harward said. “At the end of the day, all I care about is winning so I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
The year ended with none of her expectations met, but she believes that better things are on the way.
“All Hailey wants to do is win, so I know it was tough for her to go on big losing streaks,” junior outside hitter Megan Kruidhof said. “She always kept her head up and motivated us to play our best through all the losses.”
Growing up in Ahwatukee, a secluded suburb in Phoenix, Arizona, Harward felt comfortable and knew everyone in her community. It was her home, and no other place could replace it.
“It was really hot there, which was great because there was less to complain about,” Harward said. “You could just complain about the heat everyday or you could just embrace it.”
The small suburb did not have much to do, but she quickly found a solution to cure her boredom. Sports came naturally to Harward, playing basketball with her older brother and competing in various track and field events. She had no idea what volleyball was until she met her brother’s friend’s little sister, who persuaded her to try it.
“She told me to come pepper with her,” Harward laughed. “I had no idea what that meant, but I decided to go with it anyway.”
As a 10-year-old she joined her local YMCA volleyball club, where she was the youngest one in the group.
“I was put into a team where everyone else was two years older than me,” Harward said. “I was nervous, but I knew that this was the only way I would get better.”
She eventually took on the outside hitter position and became the go-to hitter for the team. She was the youngest on the court, yet everyone relied on her to get the job done.
When she was 12 years old, she had the opportunity to go through the USA “Pipeline” where she began her training to one day play for her country in the Olympics.
“This is what I was meant to do,” Harward said. “I wanted to fight and represent this country in the biggest stage in the world.”
Harward had played outside hitter for the majority of her playing career, and wanted to continue to do so for Team USA. Her lack of height was beginning to become a problem, and she struggled to produce.
“I lost a lot of my confidence playing against taller girls who could easily hit over me,” Harward said. “No matter high I can jump, you just can’t teach height.”
Playing outside hitter was all Harward ever knew, but the reality was that she could not be effective in a high-level environment. She was devastated, but USA coach Tom Hogan told her that if she wanted to play at the highest level possible, she had to consider switching to libero.
“I had never played libero in my life, but I knew I had to do it because I didn’t want to stop playing,” Harward said. “I tried out for the national team as a libero and I was put back on.”
Harward admits that it was not her talent that got her the spot but rather the intangibles. She outworked everyone and was determined to make the team. Hogan put faith in her and it payed off.
This was the first time in her career that she was not a starter, which was a humbling experience. Harward admitted it was tough, but would make the most out her time on the bench cheering and dancing for her teammates consistently.
Eventually she would earn the starting libero position and win a silver medal in the 2016 North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation Women’s U18 Continental Championship which pitted the best volleyball players in these regions against each other. She was also included in Team USA’s 20-player preliminary roster for the Girls’ U18 World Championships in 2015.
“Watching other teams play for their countries was inspiring to me and one of the best experiences in my life,” Harward said.
At the same time, she dominated at Desert Vista High as a four-year varsity player, going a combined 143-30 in her career. Her team won back-to-back AIA Division I State Championships in her junior and senior seasons, earning the No. 1 ranking in Arizona and No. 10 in the nation.
UCLA and Arizona both recruited Harward, but there was one thing that both schools did not have: coach Brian Gimmillaro.
“Brian saw that I wanted to play for the national team,” Harward said. “He told me that he would make me the national team libero, and that was all I needed to hear.”
The bond was created and she fell in love with the style of play Gimmillaro had set for the 49ers. In her first year she would be named to the Big West All-Freshman Team and averaged 3.31 digs per set as the team’s starting libero.
“When I first met Hailey I thought that she could be the best libero to ever play college volleyball,” Brian Gimmillaro said. “After coaching her for one year I knew that my analysis was right.”
It was an exciting year for Harward, and even though her goal to win a NCAA championship was not met, she was ready to do it next year.
On June 7, Gimmillaro would step down as the women’s volleyball coach, and retire after a 32-year career with Long Beach.
“It was a hard time for both of us because of the agreement we made,” Harward said. “He was the biggest reason I came here and to see him leave after my first year hurt.”
This did not stop Hailey from pursuing her goals, but it was something she did not expect to happen so early into her career.
She does not know what is in store for her in the future, but volleyball will always be a constant for her.
“I am going to play volleyball until it’s not an option for me anymore physically,” Harward said. “Volleyball will always be a part of my life no matter what.”
Once her volleyball career is over, the marketing major wants to use her degree to get a job in the sports world down the line. She is interested in marketing for a volleyball company or the Phoenix Suns.
“I have two more years to make my mark at this school,” Harward said. “With all the talent on this team I know we can win it all.”