The Long Beach State women’s volleyball team saw its season come to an end in the first round of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, losing to Santa Clara in five sets, 25-20, 25-23, 22-25, 23-25, 16-14, Wednesday at the Walter Pyramid.
Senior middle blocker YiZhi Xue led the Beach with 17 kills while freshman opposite hitter Katie Kennedy and sophomore outside hitter Kashauna Williams added 14 kills apiece. Sophomore setter Carly Aigner-Swesey had 50 assists and 10 digs for Long Beach.
“I was really proud of how our girls played and kudos to Santa Clara,” head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “I thought the match was played great.”
Team leader senior libero Hailey Harward moved into third all-time in digs and ninth all-time in service aces in her last indoor match for the Beach.
“It was really exciting to play with this group of girls,” Harward said. “I know these group of girls are going to be my friends for life. I really feel close with this group and so just to play with them one more time, it’s really special.”
The first half of the opening set started out tight, as neither team led by more than two points. With the Broncos leading 13-12, they went on a 4-0 and never looked back, taking the first set 25-20.
The second set saw Santa Clara jump out to a 5-0 lead, which eventually grew to 15-7. Trailing 22-15, the Beach rattled off five straight points to cut the Broncos’ lead down to 22-20, forcing a time out from the visitors.
Long Beach got as close 24-23 in the set, but a hitting error dashed any hope of evening the match at 1-1, as Santa Clara took set two 25-23.
“We started off a little slow in the first and second set,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “Didn’t have a lot of help from our outside [hitters] and they started to shut down YiZhi [Xue] a little bit.”
With their backs against the wall and season on the line, the Beach put together a strong third set, winning set three 25-22.
The fourth set went back and forth, as neither team led by more than two points. With Long Beach leading 24-23, a double hit violation by the Broncos gave the Beach set four 25-23.
“I think [Long Beach] made some really nice adjustments,” Santa Clara head coach Erin Lindsey said. “They are always scrappy on defense and always keeping balls off the floor and creating opportunities for themselves, so I wasn’t by any means surprised. Frankly, that’s what I would expect from a well-coached, scrappy team.”
Redshirt freshman outside hitter Allison Kantor led the Broncos with 22 kills and 14 digs while freshman outside hitter Julia Sangiacomo added 21 kills with a hitting percentage of .463.
The fifth set saw Long Beach leading 8-4 after the side change until the Broncos tied the set at 8-8. The two teams remained tied up until 13-13, but a hitting error from Sangiacomo gave the Beach match point at 14-13.
Sangiacomo made up for her hitting error with back-to-back kills, putting Santa Clara up 15-14, forcing a time out from McKienzie-Fuerbringer in attempts to ice the upcoming serve. After the time out sophomore setter Michelle Schaffer’s serve trickled off the top of the tape and onto the ground, ending the Beach’s season on a service ace, giving the Broncos the fifth set 16-14.
“Everyone on the team had to step up in order to beat Long Beach, they’re a really good team,” Sangiacomo said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game against Long Beach on their home floor, but in the end it came out in our favor.”
The Broncos (21-11, 10-8 WCC) advance to the second round of the NIVC when they will play the University of Tulsa (16-15, 8-8 AAC) on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Walter Pyramid.