Hailey Harward has grown into being one of the most recognized student-athletes at the Beach.
The senior libero became the fourth player in the university’s history to reach 1,500 career digs in early November, but her journey to the rafters of the Walter Pyramid didn’t come without its bumps along the way.
“Getting to play and start all four years here is the reason I can reach 1,500 digs,” Harward said. “I was able to look up to really amazing liberos and even our outside [hitters] at Long Beach have been super good defensively as well.”
The changing of staff had a long-lasting effect on the team, as players who decided to stay on the team were expected to lead the newcomers and teach the systematics of the Beach volleyball program, she said.
“A lot of girls left because of the uncertainty [of the coaching staff],” Harward said. “We wanted to keep the culture alive and see where it goes but it was brutal on our system for all the girls who knew the system to leave.”
Harward felt the pressure of the transition period which propelled her into a veteran role.
“Volleyball is all about chemistry and flow and how you can work off of each other,” Harward said. “My sophomore year we were learning each other’s names and the coaches had never even met us. Everything changed. Not in a good or bad way, it was just different.”
Originally from Phoenix Arizona, Harward always knew she wanted to move to Southern California. The only debate was between playing for UCLA or Long Beach.
The system of coaching set by Gimmillaro and the ability to play both indoor and beach volleyball ultimately drove Harward to the Beach.
“Hailey is a great libero who can also hit and be a threat offensively,” said Misty May-Treanor, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and CSULB women’s volleyball Hall of Famer. “To have someone that can cover the court like Hailey does is an asset that all teams want.”
Harward was approached by Tyler Hildebrand, director of coaching for the USA Beach Volleyball National Team Program July 2018, after her ninth-place finish alongside Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer in the AVP Hermosa Beach Open.
The pair began the tournament as the 54th seed in qualifiers and had no prior experience playing with each other. Hildebrand wanted the pair to begin training with the USA Beach Team, but a fractured toe would keep Harward from pursuing that goal and resulted in her missing last season’s beach volleyball play for CSULB.
“She took it like a champ and handled it as best she could,” her mother Linda Harward said. “Thankfully she got released to play like a week before the indoor season started. It still hurt but she’s a trooper and she loves the game.”
Growing up, Harward played as an outside hitter, but she has always had a love for defense despite outside hitters being overlooked for their defensive skills.
“There are a lot of outside hitters that are tall and can only play front row,” Harward said. “I’ve always prided myself for being able to kinda be the second libero on my team.”
Libero is a specialized position and reserved for the team’s best defensive player, but through her time on the court, she has learned to rely on other ways to help her teammates.
“I can always be a good teammate,” she said. “I can always ask for help, it doesn’t matter what age you are or your experience. Realizing internally all that you have to offer, instead of that one thing you may not be doing well, has helped me deal with the pressure.”
As team captain under new standards and expectations set by the new 2017 coaching staff headlined by former Long Beach All-American setter Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer, one of the hardest things for Harward was her teammates constantly leaving the team.
“That’s been a struggle for me,” Harward said. “How do I ultimately bring everyone together, still be a good teammate, still be on them not being too easy, but don’t be a coach.”
Hailey’s mother has always encouraged her to focus “on the next ball,” and to stay motivated even when “couldn’t quite serve the ball all the way over the net,” when she was 9 years old.
“She holds herself to such a high standard that she gets frustrated if something doesn’t go right,” Linda said, who travels from Phoenix almost every weekend to watch Hailey play.
Harward will graduate at the end of the fall 2019 semester and plans to pursue a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation while still playing beach volleyball with her remaining NCAA eligibility and training for the USA beach team for the 2024 Olympics.
“I’ve realized that this is my senior season and I’ve gone through so much here,” Harward said. “Everything happens for a reason. I’m maybe not meeting the goals that I set for myself when I was a younger player but I’m doing something.”