The Long Beach State women’s volleyball team was one point short of extending its rollercoaster season Wednesday evening in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Volleyball Championship. After falling behind 2-0 in the match against Santa Clara, Long Beach battled back to force a fifth set, where they had match point up 14-13. Santa Clara forced a deuce and then ended up winning the match two points later on a tape ace, defeating Long Beach 25-20, 25-23, 22-25, 23-25, 16-14.
The loss ends Long Beach State’s season, as well as the career of senior libero Hailey Harward, who will go down in history as one of the program’s finest players.
“What a great match tonight, I’m really proud of how our girls played,” said LBSU head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer. “The last couple of plays were unfortunate, we had our chances.”
Harward tied a career high with 27 digs, as well as two service aces, a kill, and an assist. With Wednesday night’s performance, Harward moves to third all-time in program history with 1,602 career digs, as well as No. 9 in program history with 116 aces, passing current assistant coach Sabrina Hernandez.
“The bonus match tonight really helped me pad my stats,” said Harward with a laugh. “Passing Sabrina, I’m pretty stoked about that–she’s going to hear about that right now. More than that it was really exciting to get another chance to play with this group of girls.”
Harward drew applause a number of times for her diving digs and the overall tenacity with which she competed.
“Hailey’s invaluable,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer. “She is what Long Beach is–she’s put her heart out there, she’s been a great leader.”
Long Beach State had a hard time getting its outside hitters going early, and the Broncos jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead. The Beach battled back in its last match of the season though, as setter Carly Aigner-Swesey continued to spread the ball around, more effectively finding hitters outside. Long Beach went from hitting .190 in the first two sets to .230 in the third and fourth, clawing their way back into the game as they hit their way around a towering block from the Broncos, who had 13 team blocks in the match.
“Carly ran a well spread offense,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer. “She got the ball to everybody.”
Long Beach battled into the fifth set and jumped out to an 8-4 lead. Santa Clara was able to tie it, but Long Beach State still had match point up 14-13. The coaches correctly dialed up a defense for hitter Julia Sangiacomo, but the block didn’t get to her in time, as she was able to tie it at 14. Two points later, Santa Clara won on a tape ace.
“We were just a little late on the block and defense on that match point, that was tough,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer.
The late-match issues were representative of the kind of year it’s been for Long Beach State, which finishes the season at 12-17 overall. The team had a higher talent level this year than the last two seasons, but youth and inexperience often showed up in tight losses.
“To have some postseason play and preparation, that experience for these younger players is invaluable,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer. “Every team’s goal is to make it into the NCAAs, that’s our goal moving forward, and this will help us get there.”
It was the last match for Harward and middle blockers YiZhi Xue (17 kills) and KJ Norveel (3 kills). Besides that, the entire rest of the team returns. In fact, every other player who was in the match on Wednesday is a freshman or sophomore, with another strong recruiting class coming in for the Fall of 2020.
“I’m okay ending the season with the kind of effort and fight we had, and I’m looking forward to next year,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer.