Sports, Women's Sports, Women's Volleyball

Long Beach State women’s volleyball looks to shake up Big West pecking order

The last two seasons have not gone as planned for the Long Beach State women’s volleyball team due to a combination of injuries to key players and poor execution in conference play resulting in missed postseason tournaments.

Coming off of a 16-13 (8-8 Big West) season in which the Beach won its final three games in a row against Big West opponents, the momentum appears to be on the team’s side heading into the year.

While the 2019 Big West Women’s Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll projects CSULB to finish fifth in the conference, head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer said there is plenty of opportunity for her new team to climb the standings.

“I don’t mind our seeding,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “I think the Big West is really strong and I like that we’re seeded where we are so we have something to reach for. We’ve got a lot to prove.”

The Beach is welcoming in eight newcomers onto the court, in the form of three transfers and five freshmen this year.

Days after the team’s Black and Gold intersquad scrimmage, McKienzie-Fuerbringer said freshman libero/defensive specialists Jade Waskom and Nicole Hoff will step into a big role for the team early on. Other first-year players who are looking to contribute right away are outside hitters Katie Kennedy, Ioanna Georgatzi and setter Tia Chavira.

In addition to sophomore outside hitter Amanda Henderson, a pair of incoming juniors, middle blocker Miranda Canez and outside hitter Avery Nelson, make up this year’s transfers and are expected to take part in what McKienzie-Fuerbringer describes as a “strong leadership class” in the new roster.

Leadership will also naturally stem from the team’s seniors coming into their own, with middle blocker Kjersti Norveel back 100% from her knee injury, and the return of 2018 All-Big West honorable mentions outside hitter Hailey Harward and middle blocker YiZhi “Eri” Xue.

After being named to the All-Big West Freshman team, sophomore Kashauna Williams will take on a bigger role for the Beach, moving positions from opposite to outside hitter.

“She’s worked really hard in the offseason and preseason on this position, so we’re going to see a lot more balls going to Kashauna Williams this year,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.

As the team’s second-leading scorer last season at 2.65 kills per set and 286 kills overall, Williams was invited to take part in the USA Volleyball National Team tryouts during the offseason. Working in the gym alongside three-time Olympic gold medalist and U.S. Olympic Hall of Famer Karch Kiraly and the U.S. Women’s National Team, Williams believes her time in Colorado Springs improved her versatility at the net.

“The experience was kind of tough because you’re playing with different people and their different styles,” Williams said. “But I think that will help me in the long run because I can adjust to anyone’s sets and anyone’s play style.” 

Williams’ advice for her freshman teammates new to playing Division 1 volleyball after her hot start a year prior? — “Stay focused and stay healthy.”

Chavira is among those newcomers working to establish themselves in their first year and looks to contribute to the team as its starting setter in the near future.

“During practices, it’s been pretty tough to adjust to my hitters,” Chavira said. “But I feel like, with more practice and more reps, I’m getting used to their hitting styles and their sets and what they need.”

Heading into her fourth and final season at Long Beach State, Harward (1,144 career digs) has her eyes set on finishing in the top three in the CSULB all-time dig record. Currently sitting ninth on the list, Harward will be chasing Tara Cross, who racked up 1,578 digs from 1986-89.

A move towards that goal will be Harward’s shift back to the libero position where she’s historically thrived, being nominated to the All-Freshman Team and First Team All-Big West in her first two years as the Beach’s defensive specialist. While Harward said her stint at her former club position of outside hitter for the Beach wasn’t tough last season, she welcomes the opportunity to focus on the defensive end once again.

“I’m playing libero this season, and pretty excited to just contribute in more of a leadership role without actually scoring, but keeping the other team from scoring,” Harward said.

The Beach will open up preseason action in Atlanta, Georgia at the Georgia Tech Invitational at 4 p.m. Friday against host Georgia Tech.

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