After getting off to a 3-7 start in conference play and relieving head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer of her duties two months into the season, Long Beach State’s women’s volleyball was in a state of distress, and it was fair to question if it would affect the team’s ten remaining games.
Just before the month of November began, Sabrina Hernandez would make the switch from assistant coach to interim head coach for The Beach.
Instead of putting up the white flag and calling this year a lost season, the team turned its season around and ended the schedule on a six-game winning streak. It was the longest winning streak since 2015 when the team won seven in a row.
The team would finish the 2021 season with an overall record of 16-15 and would finish 10-10 in conference play.
The Beach started to find itself from sitting near the bottom of the Big West at the end of October to finish tied for fifth place at the end of November.
“The biggest challenge was getting the team to keep fighting and competing and not giving up with the circumstances that occurred midway through the season,” Hernandez said. “Another challenge was for them and myself emphasizing to stick together, it’s the 22 of us and my coaching staff.”
Hernandez made sure to instill a sense of team effort during practices and post-game meetings. She and the coaching staff emphasized the positives of every match and practice.
Hernandez made sure everyone was cheering each other on from the court and from the bench. The team rallied around each other during the team’s hot streak.
“There wasn’t just one particular person or player that carried us,” Hernandez said. “It was everybody for the entire time for the last five weeks.”
Hernandez has no concrete reason for why the team’s play looked drastically different at the end of the season compared to the beginning of the year. Hernandez said that she believes her coaching style is not too far from McKienzie-Fuerbringer’s. Coach Hernandez has been an assistant coach since 2018 so the coaching change was not much of a difference.
“I knew we always had the talent and I knew the belief was there and they just needed to trust the process a little bit more,” Hernandez said. “I was proud of the resiliency they showed, and how they responded and bounced back when they could have given up.”
Athletic director Andy Fee was impressed by how resilient the team was despite the changes that happened mid-season.
“A lot of times when you make a change mid-year it can go either way, it can improve or it can stay in that negative place potentially,” Fee said. “I think [Hernandez] did a great job of getting the athletes to focus on what was essentially a 10-game-season and obviously did a tremendous job down the stretch. I’m proud of Sabrina and the athletes for focusing on what they can control which is their effort and attitude.”
Hernandez made no comment on if she is interested in returning as head coach next year or what her role will be, but Fee said he has encouraged her to apply for the job.
Fee said the job was officially posted two weeks ago and there are already people calling with interest. Fee didn’t give out any specific names but said there is a lot of interest in the position from Power Five conference coaches and assistant coaches.
“We want to move quickly but we also want to do it the right way,” Fee said. “I think we’ll get a really great diverse applicant pool and I think we can get a great coach to lead the program.”
Fee said the department will soon begin in-person interviews with those who are interested. His dream timeline is to have a new coach picked out by the end of December, but knows the holiday season might affect it.
Whoever gets the job will be taking on a program with a lot of promise and talent according to Hernandez.
“With the resilience that they showed, the sky’s the limit for these girls,” Hernandez said. “They’re going to be a team to be reckoned with.”