With tensions high and a tie-breaking set on the line, junior outside hitter Hailey Harward leapt into the air, forcing the ball into a Texas Tech defender, then out of bounds as hundreds of fans jumped to their feet to celebrate a suspenseful win.
The cheers from a rowdy crowd of 846 pierced the peace and quiet of an empty campus on Labor Day as the Long Beach women’s volleyball team racked up its fourth win of the season 25-17, 20-25, 25-16, 18-25, 15-13.
Long Beach (4-4) played an aggressive game behind senior Emma Kirst’s career-high 11 kills against Texas Tech (6-2).
“It was kind of a moment of relief because I’ve been having trouble connecting with the setters because they’re all new and I’m new to the middle so it was nice to finally connect,” Kirst said.
The 49ers were looking for an easy win after returning from the Oregon Classic with a 1-2 record, but that was not the case.
Inconsistent play from Long Beach allowed Texas to trail right behind in each set and ultimately force the match to five sets. Each spurt of energy from the 49ers was followed by simple mistakes, allowing the Red Raiders to go on multiple runs and overtake sets.
“I think a lot of the errors in the second and fourth game were on our part, we had a lot of forced errors, ball handling errors and we just need to clean that up,” head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “We’ve been talking a lot about becoming a low-error team and I think we showed that in the first and third sets. We’re right where we want to be … today we showed what we can do.”
Despite the mistakes, Long Beach showed promise while looking confident and playing classic team ball, easily taking the first set 25-17.
The Red Raiders returned to the second set with a little more oomph, improving their hitting by 26 percent with 15 kills, forcing multiple timeouts from the 49ers. The small crowd of red draped Texas fans got increasingly louder, cheering on the team as it held onto its lead and ultimately took the second and fourth set.
Another case of inconsistent play led to a fifth set, where the Red Raiders and 49ers played long and intense rallies, inciting loud cheers and stomping feet from fans.
The 49ers spread their offense well, with multiple high-hitting performances such as Harward’s season-high tying 16 kills, Williams’ 12 kills and Kirst’s 11 kills.
Long Beach will travel to the east coast this week for its next matchups at the Towson Invitational. They’ll play at 9 a.m. Thursday against Princeton and again at 10 a.m. Friday against Towson.