With more mascot issues, coaching changes and championships being won at Long Beach State, the last 12 months have been exceptionally memorable.
1. Men’s Volleyball Goes Back-To-Back
All-Americans TJ DeFalco, Josh Tuaniga, Kyle Ensing and Nick Amado completed their careers at LBSU by winning a second consecutive NCAA National Championship. Not only did the Beach stack up the awards and grab the title, it also happened in the Walter Pyramid. LBSU took down Hawaii 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-23 in front of a capacity crowd to win the first consecutive titles in school history.
2. It’s A Shark
Athletic Director Andy Fee inherited a logo and naming crisis when he arrived on campus two years ago, and the university didn’t make the branding struggle any easier this year. In an effort to appease everyone, LBSU accepted submissions to replace Prospector Pete with a new, less offensive, mascot. The people have spoken, and a shark will now represent the school. However, according to Fee, nothing about attending a game will change. There won’t be an LBSU uniform with “sharks” on it but there is sure to be some in the crowds for support and protest.
3. Women’s Soccer Doubles
A veteran group of accomplished seniors led LBSU to the Big West regular season and tournament titles last year before returning to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time since 2008.
“It’s tradition and culture,” LBSU coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “The standard has been set by teams and players in the past, and our players know what’s expected of them.”
4. Men’s Track & Field Tops
LBSU men’s track and field became the first program in Big West history to win 11 conference titles this year with a relatively easy victory at Santa Barbara. Senior long jumper Kemonie Briggs earned Men’s Field Athlete of the Year, and coach Andy Sythe was named Big West Men’s Coach of the Year after LBSU took the title for the fifth time in the last seven years.
Briggs, a Wilson High alum and an All-American, became the first athlete to win four consecutive championships in the men’s long jump. His winning jump of 26’ 1.50” was over nine inches better than the competition. Briggs is the fifth straight LBSU athlete to garner the conference award. He ranked fourth in the region and 10th in the nation in the long jump.
5. Men’s Water Polo Reach NCAA Tournament
LBSU hosted and won the Golden Coast Conference Tournament last fall at Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center. The 10-6 victory over top-seeded Pacific in the championship game qualified LBSU for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991.
“This season was always a race against time with (the players’) mentality,” LBSU coach Gavin Arroyo said. “They’re all kind of worker bee dispositions.”
6. Women’s Golf Wins Again
A year after breaking through with a team and individual title, LBSU repeated the feat and won its second consecutive Big West Conference championship in April. Senior Haley Tygret was the individual champion with a 4-under par tournament.
“Two years in a row we’ve had a senior get their first win at the conference championship,” LBSU coach Joey Cerulle said. “That’s a pretty awesome thing to do to break out your first one when it matters most.”
7. Women’s Tennis Takes Title Back
Despite not being the top seed, LBSU won its 12th Big West Tournament title in the last 16 seasons with a very young squad. Freshman Wiktoria Rutkowsa became the first LBSU player since Hannah Grady to earn a top honor as well as first-team accolades in both singles and doubles. Rutkowsa was also named Freshman of the Year, and seven LBSU players have won the award in the last 15 years. Coach Jenny Hilt-Costello was named the Big West Coach of the Year after her team took the tournament at Indian Wells Tennis Garden as the third seed.
8. Dirtbags Coaching Change
Andy Fee had to fire coach Troy Buckley in the middle of this forgettable Dirtbags season because of a physical altercation with a university employee, but he seems to have made a strong hire in replacing him with former St. Mary’s coach Eric Valenzuela.
“Being the head baseball coach at Long Beach State is a dream,” Valenzuela said. “I’m excited to be part of the history. Obviously I didn’t play here, but I know it’s about how you play with style, grit and toughness. I’m not coming in to change everything. I love that Dirtbags style. That’s the type of player I was, and that’s the type of person I am.”
Valenzuela is a long-time Southern California pitching coach, and turned the St. Mary’s College program around in the last six years. The Gaels had four consecutive 30-win seasons after recording just three seasons at .500 or better in the last 22 years. St. Mary’s made its first ever NCAA Regional appearance in 2016. His introductory press conference is on Friday at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.
9. J-Rob’s Jumper
The men’s basketball team hasn’t had many postseason highlights in recent years, but Dan Monson’s team injected some March Madness into the Big West Tournament at Honda Center in the quarterfinals against Hawaii.
Hawaii led LBSU by as many as 18 points in the first half, but the Beach used a full-court press to claw its way back into the game, and Jordan Roberts’ jumper with less than a second left in regulation gave his team an improbable 68-66 win. Roberts scored a game-high 18 points to go with a team-high nine rebounds.
10. Softball Shortstop Makes More History
Senior shortstop Nichole Fry was named the Big West Defensive Player of the Year. She joined two-time winner Shayna Kimbrough as the only LBSU players to win the award, and was also first team for the second straight year. Fry led the Beach with a .452 on-base percentage and eight home runs. She was second on the team with a .338 batting average, only struck out five times all season, and leaves the school with the record for runs scored.