There’s nowhere for the Long Beach State women’s volleyball team to go but up.
The 49ers are coming off a 10-19 season in Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer’s first season as head coach, a rebuilding season that was also the worst winning percentage in the history of the program. The numbers don’t tell the story of a team racked by injuries, illnesses, and every kind of bad luck imaginable.
“Honestly, we’ll always laugh about last year,” said libero Hailey Harward, entering her junior year. “We weren’t laughing at the time, but it was just the worst year ever. I feel horrible for the seniors, but at the same time I know we’re going to be so much better this year.”
Part of that is what McKienzie-Fuerbringer hopes will be a regression to the mean, luck-wise. The team is much stronger heading into the season and have had a whole year to learn the intricacies of the team’s system. They also boast seven newcomers, including several who are likely to make an immediate impact.
“With a year under our belt and a full spring together, of course we’re much further along,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer of her roster.
Transfer Tyler Spriggs is a senior grad transfer coming from Arizona and will be a six-rotation outside hitter, providing an immediate power upgrade. Kashauna Williams and Allison Martinez are both true freshmen who will likely be day-one starters hitting at the pins as well.
In the middle, YiZhi Xue is back and likely to make an even bigger impact with another year of strength training; Lakewood alum Megan Kruidhof is a rare senior on the roster who will play heavily.
The team’s biggest question mark coming into the summer was at setter, where Mina Andjelkovic and Carly Aigner-Swesey (younger sister of 49er alum Delainey) have both played well enough to force McKienzie-Fuerbringer to consider running a 6-2 system that would put both of them in rotation.
The 49ers were picked to finish fourth in the Big West Preseason Coaches Poll, but with the conference unusually wide open this year, it’s not out of the question to imagine them back atop the standings. Last year’s champion, Cal Poly, was picked to repeat, with Hawaii and UC Irvine ranked second and third.
McKienzie-Fuerbringer said a major improvement for the team has been the university funding the beach program and hiring Mike Campbell to a full-time deal running that team. In the last few years, Campbell had been splitting time between the indoor team and the beach program, serving as the volunteer head coach of the latter.
“It’s great for us,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer. “It’s better for the coaches, it’s better for the players–it was really taking away from both teams. This way is better for everyone.”
It also allowed them to hire setter specialist Sabrina Hernandez to coach the team’s setters, instead of McKienzie-Fuerbringer splitting time in that role.
Long Beach State opens the season this weekend at the Portland State Tournament with matches against Boise State and Portland State. They open the home schedule on Aug. 28 against Seattle University in the Pyramid at 7 p.m; the team is hosting a scrimmage TODAY Tuesday morning against San Diego at 11 a.m.